Guest Commentary: Communities & School Boards Should Determine When Schools Open | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Guest Commentary: Communities & School Boards Should Determine When Schools Open

A letter from Culver's superintendent to state leaders

Editor's note: This week, Culver School District Superintendent Stefanie Garber sent this letter to state officials, in response to Gov. Kate Brown's announcement that until the state has a statewide positive coronavirus testing rate at or below 5% for three weeks in a row, the state's students would not be allowed take part in in-person instruction.

Guest Commentary: Communities & School Boards Should Determine When Schools Open
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The letter asserts that rural communities like Culver (pop. 1,357 according to 2010 Census) should make their own decisions regarding school openings.

Dear Governor Brown, State School Board of Oregon, State Senators, State Representatives, & Jefferson County Commissioners:


As a leader for Culver School District, I write to ask that schools opening be moved to a community and School Board decision. Our community is very smart and can make the best decisions for their children and their families, and our school board has a long history of taking excellent care of our district. Our staff is ready to return to campus, abide by safety protocols, and deliver the excellent education they are so skilled at providing for our students. They also have a reputation for doing "whatever it takes" in the best interest of the children.

The county metric system doesn't take all factors into consideration. Families that don't live in our community, nor do their students attend our schools, prevent us from opening our doors. We surveyed our families and 89.7% want their children to have onsite learning, we are able to accommodate the other 11.3% with a hybrid model.

In addition, overall Comprehensive Distance Learning failed. It worked for a small handful of families. It should be more appropriately named Comprehensive Distance Practicing. For about 50% of our families, they participated and it was practicing because most parents are not skilled at teaching nor does the family dynamic lend itself to best practices for learning. "Distance Learning" may have gotten us through the initial crisis, but it is not a long-term solution, nor did it prove to be a success.

Guest Commentary: Communities & School Boards Should Determine When Schools Open
Courtesy Stefanie Garber

The American Academy of Pediatrics states, "Schools are fundamental to child development and well-being and provide our children with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits." We are going to abolish all of that for a risk of less than 1%? The soul damage of closing schools and requiring "Distance Learning" is feared more than this virus by our district & community.

Let me show you what I am talking about when I say Comprehensive Distance Learning failed...

Family #1

• 2 college educated parents with full time jobs

• 2 children, 8-year-old and 3-year-old

• Mid-May of "Distance Learning" parents inform school they are done. The online classes happen while they are at work. The online platform is too hard for their 8-year-old to navigate on his own and they struggle to help him. They have their children in child care during the day. In the evening, when they get home, they struggle to get school work done and try to teach and the family dynamic becomes very negative. They want to be loving parents, not ineffective teachers with a frustrated student, thus.... they cease Distance Learning.

Family #2

• Single mom who works full time during the day

• 6 kids, 5 still in the home- 17-year-old, 11-year-old, 7-year-old, 3-year-old, 2-year-old

• 7 year old born without wrists—receives physical and occupational therapy at school and has a learning disability. Has an individualized education plan to meet her needs.

• 11-year-old is also on an individualized education plan for learning disabilities.

• When packets and computers arrived for the 3 school aged children in April, mom tried. She had a "we can do this" attitude. After working all day, trying to get the kids to complete work became impossible. Students' special education needs going unmet despite a mom who is fully involved and giving her all.

Family #3

• 2 unemployed parents doing the best they know how

• 6 children, 5 are of school age—oldest out on her own, 16-year-old, 14-year-old, 10-year-old, 9-year-old, 7-year-old

• All live in travel trailer, too crowded so oldest two are kicked out and find other places to live

• 1 child is on an individualized education plan in our independent life skills program

• During Distance Learning in April & May couldn't get ahold of the family so we did home visits. 6 bags of groceries delivered from school over the time period. Adult admitted they threw away the homework packets and won't open the computers. They shared they won't do school.

Family #4

• Single grandma raising grandson

• 1 child, 7-year-old

• Student not receiving speech services at school

• 2 weeks into "Distance Learning" in April, grandma comes into the school to return the device for online learning. She is crying and she says, "Take this, I can't do it. I don't know how even after we have had 2 meetings to help me." We give packed work at lower level so she doesn't have to do any teaching, but he will stay busy and practice some of his skills.

And these are average families in our district, and I could go on and on...

Our district has a 64% poverty rate. The historically underserved populations fall further behind in "Distance Learning." I appreciate the time and effort that State leadership is putting into plans and mandates, it is undoubtedly a very challenging time to know what is the best path. The county metrics method we have been given as a mandate is a black and white measure, but there are so many factors that are at stake that aren't black and white. I believe our current mandates need to be changed to allow the community and the school board to make locally informed decisions on what is best for their children.

We have purchased all the necessary equipment as well as hired more custodial help to make sure we have an extra-sanitized and safe school environment. We will be ready to open our doors on September 8, 2020.

I am willing to be on any State committee or group to make this change, or be a part of the conversation. I am grateful for your leadership and am willing to partner with you.

Please contact me should you have any further questions.


Stefanie Garber
Elementary Principal & District Superintendent

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