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Polk County school districts are working with ODE to send information regarding seniors, education.

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DALLAS – Schools statewide are closed at least until April 28, but high school seniors are still set to graduate in June.

The Oregon Department of Education and school officials across the state are working together to change requirements to help members of the Class of 2020 receive their diplomas on time.

“We are waiting for the final determinations for addressing the needs of seniors in high school. The Department of Education has made it very clear that their priority is for supporting students,” said Dallas interim superintendent Andy Bellando. “No. 1 being the support for high school seniors to qualify for a diploma this year still, whether we come back on April 29 or not.”

Bellando said final instructions from the state will be delivered this week. In a normal year, seniors would have had to earn at least 24 high school credits to graduate. That will be scaled back this year. They also must demonstrate proficiency in essential skills, either through assessments or work samples.

“That could drop off by as many as five, or six credits even, to get students to graduate, to earn a diploma in the state of Oregon,” Bellando said. “I anticipate some relief on demonstration of essential skills, such as the state assessment or work samples to demonstrate essential skills.”

There are other issues regarding seniors that need to be addressed as well. “What does it mean for their entrance into universities with a diploma and a completed transcript? What does it mean for students who are in the middle of AP classes right now or students who are going into the military?” Bellando said. “All of those questions are being addressed in a soon-to-be-released memo from the Department of Education, targeting specifically the support of seniors.”

Falls City superintendent Art Houghtaling said the high school awaits instructions from the state, but is making plans to celebrate graduation in a way that is as close to normal as possible.

“Their worlds have been upended with all of the traditional senior experiences slipping away,” Houghtaling said in a letter to parents and students. “We want to assure you that we are prioritizing plans to help seniors reach graduation.

“Senior year can be stressful in the best circumstances, and we are all working to eliminate any unnecessary stress in this unprecedented situation.”

Bellando said Dallas, like many districts throughout the state, doesn’t have the ability to provide online classes for all students. The state, nonetheless, requires districts to provide supplemental education material to students.

“There’s already supplemental information for all grade levels on the school district website as we speak,” Bellando said. “We’ll also be providing hard copy packets of information to be distributed to students through the breakfast and lunch program sites.”

He said for freshman, sophomores and juniors, part of that supplemental material will include emphasis on the importance of remaining on track to graduate.

Perrydale School will be sending out a regarding internet connectivity as it makes plans to provide an alternative learning format.

Bellando said the current situation revealed the need to make plans for future extended shut downs, not just for academics, but the other services and skills provided by schools.

“It’s very difficult to support students in an equitable fashion when you don’t bring them into a brick and mortar setting. What I’m referring to is there is not just the academic supports, but the supports that are really defined within the culture of the school: the welcoming feel, the social gains made,” he said. “I believe that schools are also tasked with providing character education and character support for students that is very difficult to do in a remote fashion.”

Districts are providing meals to students, but Bellando said schools need to consider those other factors.

“I learned a long time ago that character and academic growth are a significant school responsibility every day. That’s our job. It’s not just academic growth,” Bellando said. “When that is disrupted, we need to do what we can to support students in every way possible.”

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