Parents share concern as COVID-era online learning program ends

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As Portland Public Schools prepares to close its Online Learning Academy program at the end of the school year, parents, staff and students are taking their concerns straight to the school board.

OLA was launched in the 2021-2022 school year with federal COVID relief funds, and while it’s seen a decline in enrollment in the last year, parents say it makes a world of difference for students who are a part of it and should be a permanent fixture.

“The last thing we want is for our school to end when we were just getting started,” one student told the school board during their meeting Tuesday evening.

Earlier this year, the district announced the closure of the Online Learning Academy program in June. At Tuesday’s school board meeting, many connected to the program spoke in support of it, calling it a safe haven for a variety of needs like COVID and health concerns.

“My husband is immune-compromised and we also have immune-compromised family members and in-person school is simply not an option for us right now,” said Suzanne Bilderback, a parent of an OLA student.

Special needs education was also brought up as a reason to keep the program. Some parents say the OLA program has allowed their students to participate and feel engaged without the pressure of in-person learning.

“I have a child who is diagnosed autistic and ADHD. She has had a hard time fitting into the typical school format,” said Sara Kemper, a parent of two OLA students. “Losing this c