The Forest Grove School District central office. Photo: Chas Hundley

Coronavirus resources: CDC on the coronavirusOregon Health Authority resourcesWashington County resourcesOregonian reporting on the coronavirusOPB glossary of coronavirus termsNYTimes free reporting on the coronavirus

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.

[We rely on subscribers to keep the lights on at the Gales Creek Journal. Support us with a digital subscription: Click here to start]

“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 Forest Grove 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 Forest Grove 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.

‘We will make it work’

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

“Internet isn’t great and not reliable but we will make it work,” said Melinda Boge Fischer, who is hosting a high school exchange student from Chile at her home in Gales Creek. 

“As a homeschooling family, internet has been an ongoing issue,” said Victoria Stocker Elliot, a Gales Creek resident. 

“Our internet seems better now that the repairman recently was out,” said Lorraine Wrazen-Heinauer.

Others said that they had perceived no issues and were happy with their internet service, even with multiple people using the internet at home due to working from home to follow social distancing measures.

The Forest Grove 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 Forest Grove School District spokesperson David Warner, who said that they were working with parents.

"We are working to find some creative solutions to help those who do not have internet access," Warner said.