Distance Learning

What Might Oregon Schools Look Like This Fall?

Portland schools are in session through June 10. September could bring a mix of in-person and virtual learning.

By Julia Silverman May 6, 2020

Signs like this are up at public schools all over this city.

Here is one thing we know for sure about Portland public schools this year: The last day of the school year will be Wednesday, June 10. 

In the pre-pandemic era, the last day of school this year was set for June 5. But on Tuesday night, school board members flexed their muscle, adding back three days to make up for lost instructional time, the maximum allowed under the contract with the Portland Association of Teachers.  

What else do we know for sure about the future of Portland schools—or indeed, public schools across Oregon? Not much at all. 

For example: Will there be summer school, or at least virtual online instruction to try to plug some of the gaps that have only widened during the past weeks of mandated distance learning? 

It all depends on where you live. 

It’s up to each of Oregon’s 198 distinct school districts to answer that question for themselves, says Oregon Department of Education spokesperson Marc Siegel. (Though most often, summer school isn’t offered for everyone, but targeted at students who need particular help, like those learning to speak English or those with disabilities. Traditionally, those programs are paid for with federal dollars.) 

In an alternate, non-coronavirus universe, summer school might actually have expanded this year, because lawmakers funded the Student Success Act, which was intended to pump $2 billion into pre K-12 education over the next two years.  Districts would have gotten to choose how to spend their share of that money, some of would likely have been earmarked for summer programming.

Unfortunately, that funding was tied to business tax revenue which has evaporated over the last two months. In fact, Portland Public schools alone is now forecasting a $60 million shortfall for next year, which is partly why a new four-day workweek for teachers goes into effect this Friday. 

Same answer goes for whether school might start earlier in August, to make up for all these lost hours (because let’s be real: distance learning is no substitute for the real thing): school districts will need to make that decision on their own, after sure-to-be-delicate negotiations with individual school employee unions, from teachers to custodians. 

Gov. Kate Brown is expected to provide more complete guidance about all this later this month, including some more concrete information on what public school might look like in the fall, all of which is subject to change, depending on the virus’s path. It’s COVID-19's world now. We just live in it. 

In the meantime, schools are preparing for all possibilities, including that classes could start with a mix of virtual and school-based learning. That could mean that kids go to school in shifts, principals at Portland schools have said during community meetings this week, with some attending in the morning and others attending in the afternoon.  

It’s unlikely, principals have said, that parents will be able to volunteer in the schools in the fall (though we’re all doing quite a lot of that at home, thankyouverymuch). And everyone will be on alert for a quick pivot back to full-time distance learning, should coronavirus infection rates start to spike.  

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