SKPS school board meets to address statewide closures

The Salem-Keizer School District’s Board of Directors held an emergency meeting on Wednesday, March 18, after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a day prior that all schools will be closed until April 28 due to the outbreak of COVID-19, extending the original two-week closure to six weeks.

The closure means that the district will go 27 days without school and that approximately 41,000 local students will either be at home or in daycare — Salem-Keizer student are on spring break March 23-27.

Superintendent Christy Perry shared that the closure could be shortened or extended depending on guidance from public health officials. 

Perry also stated that Salem-Keizer schools will still receive state funding, as long as they remain in compliance with state rules — such as providing school meals, paying all staff and developing plans for supplemental learning outside of the classroom. 

The district released supplemental learning tools for all levels on their website on Saturday, March 21. However, these learning tools are not equal to classroom instruction.

As far as potential make-up days are concerned, Perry said the 27 days “would difficult to make up.”

“We won’t be able to pull off instruction for a full 27 days of missed school … So we’re going for supplemental learning,” Perry said.

While they have a lot on their plate right now, Perry made it clear that the top priority for the district in this crisis is graduating seniors. It’s also at the top of the list for the Oregon Department of Education as what they would like to get guidance on. However, Perry said that they have to start acting now.

“We’re not waiting for guidance. We are working on what we believe to be a good plan,” Perry said. “We can’t wait to figure that out.”

“Right now, our schools are looking at every senior. Are they on track? How many credits are they missing? Could we give them a diploma today? What’s going to be the need if nothing changes with graduation requirements?”

The district will likely be required to provide childcare for health care workers and first responders — approximately 2,600 employees at Salem Health have children under the age of 11 according to assistant superintendent Kraig Sproles.

“We’re going to have to call staff into work, to meet child care demands, to help with food, to help with supplemental learning,” Perry said. 

Along with supplemental learning, director of career and technical education, Jim Orth wants the district to also provide online resources for mental health for families and communities that are struggling through this difficult time. 

Lillian Govus, director of communications, shared that Salem-Keizer will now pay all regular employees their normal pay without the use of leave or sick time.

Govus also informed the board that school officials have been collaborating Marion Polk Food Share, United Way Catholic Community Services and Panera Bread to continue to offer meals at 36 schools.

Despite the school shutdowns, Salem-Keizer’s $619.7 million bond construction project hasn’t been delayed.

“All our projects are still on schedule,” said Michael Wolfe, the chief operation officer. “But things can change over time.”