Schools will close for the rest of the school year, shift entirely to distance learning

An April 9, 2017 photo of the Banks High School and Middle School. Photo: Chas Hundley

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OREGON – Following the lead of neighboring states Washington, Idaho (mostly), and California, Oregon students won’t set foot in a school building for the rest of the school year.

Governor Kate Brown announced the decision during a 1 p.m. press conference on Wednesday in Portland, along with Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill.

At the press conference, Brown noted the difficulties faced by parents and students, and then announced the closure of schools through the rest of the school year.

“[We’ve made] the decision to close in-person classes for the remainder of the school year. School and learning will continue as best as they can using remote means,” said Brown.

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“Distance learning is not synonymous with online learning,” said Gill, noting options such as conference calls, posted videos, school bus deliveries of physical packets, and other strategies used by school districts. 

The Oregon School Board Association, a group that provides services to the elected school board members across the state weighed in on the closure.

“It has appeared for some time this day was coming, but it’s a difficult day all the same. It’s sad to think of families unable to experience the graduation moment celebrating years of hard work by students. It’s sad to think of empty classrooms, further disruptions in learning, and knowing that some students’ needs will be unmet. But these are unprecedented times, and we support the governor’s decision in the interest of protecting public health,” said Jim Green, OSBA’s executive director. 

Graduation guidelines announced

With the school closure announcement came another announcement that school administrators and parents in the Banks School District have been waiting for: How the class of 2020 will graduate. 

While details need to be hammered out on the district level for some students that were not yet on track to graduate, Brown said that all seniors who were on track to graduate before schools closed in mid-March would automatically receive a passing grade. 

Seniors who were not on track will need to work with the Banks School District to come up with a plan to graduate using some form of distance learning. 

The Oregon Department of Education is recommending that districts work with graduating seniors and the community at large to celebrate graduation in a manner that is safe in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, including online options or perhaps postponement of ceremonies.

Internet access in the Banks School District

After school districts announced their own plans for distance learning, some parents in the Banks School District expressed concerns about access to educational materials online. 

“Honestly, internet and cell service is extremely spotty at our location. It’s difficult for me to accomplish anything online – let alone home schooling. We have Verizon cell service and Verizon MiFi internet. It’s expensive and not worth it but it’s the only option we have,” said Sheila Sweeney, a Timber resident.

“We aren’t lucky with the internet here unfortunately so it looks like I’m going to have to look into our options further,” said Jocie Bauer, also a Timber resident. 

“With 2 kids in Banks I have no reliable way for them to do online school. At this point I will be picking up hard copies from school or printing things at work,” said Deena Leedy. 

The Banks School District, like other school districts, is providing physical packets to replace or aid materials for distance learning found online. 

The district is working on the problem of internet access, according to Banks superintendent Jeff Leo, who said that they were working with parents.

There wasn’t an official poll throughout the district, but did some rough estimations,” Leo said.

The district is distributing distance learning packets to those who want or need them at each school in the district. According to the district, the next packet distribution will be on Monday, April 13th.

Banks School District begins free lunch service

After seeking a waiver from the USDA to begin serving free meals, the district announced on April 2 that they had been successful and would serve free meals to all youth ages 1 – 18 regardless of if they were BSD students. 

The time and location of the meals did not change, according to Banks superintendent Jeff Leo. 

The meals are served in front of the Banks Elementary School only, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Friday

The meals are done in the style of a sack breakfast and a sack lunch, and are served at the same time. A student can simply pick up one of each, or just a breakfast or lunch. 

As part of a statewide executive order, staff will enforce a 6 foot minimum distance between those who arrive to pick up meals at the front door of the elementary school.

This is a developing story

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Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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