Is remote learning a possibility for local districts?
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Is remote learning a possibility for local districts?

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The empty halls of Memorial Middle School in Albany.

On Tuesday, students around Albany could log on to Facebook to hear a bedtime story read by Superintendent Melissa Goff. 

It would be the first interaction with Greater Albany Public Schools staff they'd had in days. 

Gov. Kate Brown ordered public schools to close through March 30 before extending that closure earlier this week to April 28. The mandate, which excluded childcare services, was part of an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19--or coronavirus--which has killed at least 100 people in the U.S., three statewide and has seen at least 14 confirmed cases in Linn County. 

Local districts are still working with the Oregon Department of Education to map out logistics surrounding the six week closure and asking questions about the possibility of losing the entirety of the school year after the Governor of Kansas dismissed the remainder of the year. 

"For now, we're focusing on emergency management," said Corvallis School District Superintendent Ryan Noss.

Part of Gov. Brown's executive order required districts to provide meals to students and learning opportunities. But districts around the state are at various levels of preparedness when it comes to infrastructure and resources to hold remote classes. 

In Corvallis, the district conducted a study of 1,000 high school students just a few weeks ago revealing that 98% had access to the internet at home. But in Albany, GAPS is just now assessing students' ability to get online according to a statement released on Wednesday. 

"We have created a household technology access survey to assess the needs of our families regarding internet connectivity and available devices," Goff said in a statement, noting that survey was available on the district's website in both English and Spanish. 

Administrators in Lebanon, according to a statement on the district's website, continue to meet and Sweet Home Superintendent Tom Yhares released a statement noting the district was in "uncharted waters." Teachers from Sweet Home have also taken to Facebook to read stories to students. 

But whether districts will have the capacity to teach classes online should the closure extend through the school year is still being studied. Districts, according to Noss, are still working with ODE on the issues most crucial during the six week closure: graduation and food distribution. Technology, while being discussed, hasn't yet found a solid answer. 

"Teaching remotely is an equity challenge since our students do not all have the same amount of access to computers and the internet," said GAPS spokesperson Andrew Tomsky noting that Xfinity has opened its local hotspots for use in the community. "We are exploring different options and trying to help families with internet access and if the closure goes beyond spring break we will reassess."

In Corvallis, students will be given the opportunity to pick up their Chromebooks and iPads to use at home and all districts are working to distribute free supplemental learning resources. 

Districts say they are working with ODE within the current six-week timeline but conversations will extend beyond that should Gov. Brown opt to close schools longer. 

If districts have to move to online models, federal guidelines are clear: any online learning must be equally accessible to all students and equitable in that it be accessible to students with disabilities, English-language learners and other special needs students. 

"At this point really focusing on the current executive order and the dates outlined there but paying close attention to changes that might come our way," Noss said. "We’re taking it day by day if not hour by hour." 

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Oregon's colleges and universities announced additional changes to operations on Wednesday as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the state. 

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