Salem-Keizer will let students borrow district laptops during school closure

Highland Elementary 2nd grade teacher Becky Montgomery works with a student during a computer math exercise Wednesday March 13, 2019. (Fred Joe/Special to Salem Reporter)

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Salem-Keizer students who need a computer to stay on top of schoolwork while Oregon’s schools are closed can borrow a Chromebook from the district next week at no cost.

District employees will distribute the computers Thursday, April 2, from 12-6:30 p.m. and Friday, April 3 from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at all six regular district high schools: North, South, West, McNary, McKay and Sprague.

The effort is intended to help students access online learning materials and other resources. Salem-Keizer has no plans to offer online classes while schools are closed because it’s not possible to provide equal access to students with disabilities, spokeswoman Lillian Govus said.

Students must show a Salem-Keizer ID card or give their student ID number to receive a computer free of charge. Any student, from kindergarten through high school is eligible.

Salem-Keizer owns more than 51,000 Chromebooks and doesn’t expect to run out, Govus said. Classified employees, like classroom aides, can also check out computers to use at home.

The district did put online resources on its website last week so parents and guardians can help kids learn while they’re home.

Many other questions about the rest of the school year remain unanswered, because of a lack of guidance from the state. It’s also not clear if students will return to school on April 28, as currently scheduled, or if the closure will be extended.

“We have no idea,” Govus said.

High school administrators and teachers are reviewing transcripts for the Class of 2020 to determine who still needs credits to graduate that could be earned this spring, she said. Then, educators will reach out to students individually with work to help them complete those credits, she said.

For other students, ungraded online offerings will be expanded starting next week, Govus said. Teachers and other educators didn’t work this week, which was the district’s scheduled spring break, but will be called in starting Monday to help develop more materials for at-home learning.

Salem-Keizer has also ordered wi-fi hotspots to distribute to students who may not have internet access at home, but those haven’t yet arrived, she said.

Packets for at-home learning are also being passed out at 35 district schools along with free breakfasts and lunches.

Some community groups are also helping families during the closure. The Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality, a group that works with Latino parents, is calling about 180 families that have recently taken classes or participated in coalition events to see how they’re doing, executive director Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo said.

Coalition employees, mentors and facilitators will be assigned families to check in on regularly. The group will spend money that normally goes to food and childcare for events on reading materials, art supplies and other items to help kids learn at home that can be delivered to families, she said.

Salem Art Association is also working to create at-home art activities for kids that can be done with household materials, executive director Sandra Burnett said. Those would replace the visiting artist programs the association normally runs, where professional artists teach lessons in local schools.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander at [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.