LA GRANDE — Oregon Connections Academy, a public accredited online school, is in a solid position entering April in the midst of COVID-19.
ORCA has a record 4,600 students, including about 150 in Eastern Oregon, and with a limited number of exceptions is operating just as it always has.
“We are up and running,” said Allison Galvin, executive director or ORCA, which as a public school charges no tuition.
Three hundred new students joined ORCA in March, a definite increase, Galvin said. ORCA’s enrollment will not be growing in the near future, though, because of Gov. Kate Brown’s directive prohibiting Oregon’s public schools from accepting any new students as of March 27.
Brown’s March 12 order temporarily put ORCA in limbo and not because of the enrollment restriction. The directive stated all public schools were to be closed at least through April 28 and teachers were to provide distance learning opportunities to their students via supplemental materials, but teachers could not give assignments and tests that would be graded for credit.
Galvin said the wording of the governor’s directive did not specifically state whether this limitation applied to ORCA.
“The directive was not clear,” Galvin said. “We thought, ‘What does this mean for us?’”
That became moot on March 30, when the Oregon Department of Education announced all public schools must offer distance classes for credit via a new Distance Learning for All program.
“We were thrilled (when the March 30 announcement was made),” Galvin said, explaining that ORCA would have been thrown for a loop if it could not provide students assignments and tests to be graded for credit.
“It would have been hard to function,” said the ORCA executive director, who lives in Salem.
One of the few changes ORCA has had to make during the coronavirus pandemic is it can no longer conduct field trips. Previously, ORCA students and teachers regularly met to make trips. ORCA teachers in Union County, for example, took students on tours of Eastern Oregon University and other sites. In place of actual visits, ORCA teachers now are taking their students on virtual field trips, including to the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., and NASA centers.
“This (the COVID-19 restrictions) have unleashed exciting new opportunities,” Galvin said.
ORCA traditionally holds its high school graduation ceremony at the Oregon State Fair and Exposition Center in Salem. Galvin said this may not be possible this year because of COVID-19 and a virtual graduation ceremony may be conducted in its place.
ORCA’s 4,600 students is up 70 from a year ago, when it also established a record. Galvin said its students are evenly distributed around the state. The 150 students it has in Eastern Oregon are in at least nine counties, including Union, Wallowa, Baker, Grant and Malheur counties.