Remaining school year will likely lean on virtual learning

SKPS School district

It’s becoming more likely that Salem-Keizer Public Schools won’t be re-opening before the end of the school year. 

On Monday, March 30, the Oregon Department of Education shared that students might not be returning to classroom this school year due to the spread of COVID-19. Because of this realization, the department released guidance on virtual learning that same evening. 

“We also foresee the strong possibility that our students may not come back through our schoolhouse doors this academic year. This calls for a shift from providing supplementary education to a formidable effort to provide distance learning for all,” said Colt Gill, the director of the Oregon Education Department. “We now have a moral imperative to meet the changing nature of the pandemic and evolve our approach to serving our children.”

Just over two weeks ago, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown extended the state’s school closure from two weeks to six weeks, scheduling schools to re-open on Monday, April 29. There has been no modification to that date.

Last week, the Salem-Keizer School District released supplemental learning tools for all K-12 students. But the district made it clear that these tools weren’t replacements for classroom instruction. 

Now, ODE will be asking school districts to teach new materials that coincide with state curriculum standards for each grade.

ODE asks that each district will have their plan for distant learning in place by Monday, April 13. 

“To the extent possible, our intent is to maintain instructional time for students that is aligned to what virtual schools provide,” ODE spokesperson Marc Siegel said. “The typical learning day for Oregon’s students will include a teacher-led learning time, while also including time for supplemental activities, mealtime and play.”

Under the new strategy, teachers can use online tools to conduct class, though it might be easier for some instructors than others.

“The vast majority of Oregon educators have not taught online and some districts have varying levels of experience, capacity and technology tools,” Gill said.

Not all learning, however, has to be online. Gill noted that school packets could be distributed to students via individual and group calls. 

Gill also acknowledged that parents and guardians will need to help provide daily structure and serve as tutors and that this process will require a considerable effort by everyone involved. 

“The success of distance education overwhelmingly relies on parents and adult family members to be active partners with teachers,” Gill said. 

SKSD superintendent Christy Perry sent an email out to inform all parents of Salem-Keizer students of what they could expect for the month of April.

Perry stated that the district has a “team of educators working to develop our plan for distance learning for all” and that 450 classified educators had picked up Chromebooks to support supplemental learning. 

“We won’t have our plan ready to move forward today, which is hard for us to share, because we know there are so many questions that need answers,” Perry said in the email.

Perry stated that the district doesn’t have guidance from the state on high school graduation yet.