Brown: ‘Coronavirus pushed schools to breaking point’

Coronavirus

'We have not received a fricking response to our request' from the Trump Administration

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Hours after announcing Oregon schools would stay open, Gov. Kate Brown changed her mind and closed them Thursday night.

All K-12 schools in the state of Oregon will be closed through the end of March, Governor Kate Brown announced late Thursday night.

In a teleconference and Facebook Live with reporters on Friday, Brown expressed her frustration with the Trump Administration over medical supplies that haven’t arrived.

“On Tuesday, I called Secretary Azar and said, ‘We have not received a fricking response to our request.”

Oregon Governor Kate Brown

“It has become clear that the demands of this crisis were quickly pushing our schools to their breaking point,” the governor said.

On Wednesday, she said superintendents told her earlier in the week to keep schools open. On Thursday morning she said that would happen. Hours later, the Portland Teachers Union called on her to close schools.

Brown orders all K-12 schools closed through March

Brown told reporters Friday her about-face wasn’t because of the union’s demands.

“Several school districts told me they are becoming functionally unable to operate, between worried staff and employees that are at elevated risk due to age or health concerns.”

The governor said 40% of the substitute teachers for the Portland School District are over 60 years old. Staff in lunch rooms and those who drive buses are older and vulnerable.

During the closure districts need to do several things:

  • Plan for kids to return to class April 1
  • Prepare for longer closures
  • Districts will still need to provide meals while school is out to vulnerable kids
  • Lost class time will be made up on previously-planned days off and summer vacation.

Watch Brown’s Facebook live

Later by phone, Gov. Brown blased the Trump Administration for breaking promises about delivering medical supplies to the state.

“On March 3, I sent a letter to the Vice President. He called me literally the next day and assured me that help, it was on the way. We have been calling every single day since then,” Brown said.

“On Tuesday, I called Secretary Azar and said, ‘We have not received a fricking response to our request.”

The governor said she got a promise from the CDC on Thursday that Oregon is getting about 10% of what the state asked for — and she doesn’t know when it will get here.

Read: Gov. Kate Brown’s prepared remarks Friday morning

Thank you all for joining us here today to talk about the closure of Oregon schools that I announced last night.

Our schools are truly the heart of our communities. They are the heart of our communities. Our families build their daily lives around it.

In addition to the importance of learning, they provide critical services for so many of our families. Like access to health care and free and reduced meals.

We need that now more than ever before.

But, as we all know, the COVID-19 situation is quickly evolving.

On Wednesday, superintendents told me they did not want to close schools because they know that our most vulnerable families will be impacted.

Over the last 24 hours, I had many conversations with superintendents, educators, and parents. It has become clear that the demands of this crisis were quickly pushing our schools to their breaking point.

Several school districts told me they are becoming functionally unable to operate. Between worried staff and employees that are at elevated risk due to their age or health, the staffing challenges are making it too difficult for schools to provide the services that we depend on.

This is a trying time for our communities. I am reluctant to increase the burden on families who are already struggling to adapt to and stay healthy during this crisis.

I said that considerations of school closures would be a last resort.

However, we are left with little choice in light of school districts’ staff capacity and operational concerns. I want to thank all of the teachers and school employees who have worked hard to keep our schools open until now.

I want to be clear: this will not stop the spread of COVID-19.

Last night the CDC released guidance that short- to medium-length closures early in the outbreak will not have an impact.

In addition, in places where school closures are necessary, the anticipated academic and economic impacts must be planned for, and mitigated.

That includes unintended impacts on disease outcomes. It also includes the impact on essential health care workers’ ability to do their jobs.

We are working to identify and provide child care coverage for those front line workers like health care workers and first responders who are essential to the state’s public health.

We need our school districts’ help to make sure we know who those families are.

Even though schools are closing, state and district education officials will continue working around the clock to ensure students still have access to the services they need. Schools will evaluate the length of the closure, determine contingencies to continue learning from home, and the impacts on instructional time.

This is a major disruption to our communities, and takes away a sense of normalcy for our kids.

This means that now every single one of our children is experiencing this crisis, up close and personal.

One of my staffers’ kids spent the morning crying because she loves school so much. So do thousands of other kids.

We must keep them in our hearts and support our children’s emotional well-being as best as we can.

I want families to know that I will do everything I can to press the federal government for the resources we need. That I will push providers for the information we need to combat this crisis.

And I will fight to get Oregon what it needs to weather this storm and recover stronger than we were before.

Response to school closures

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Health Officer Jennifer Vines said in a statement that early school closures, combined with social distancing, “is our best chance to slow the spread of the virus.”

The Oregon Education Association released a statement following Brown’s directive, calling on state officials to protect students and educators during the closure by continuing meal programs and developing plans to support school employees financially. “Oregon’s students and educators should not have to bear the burden of a public health outbreak that is far beyond their control.”

Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici issued a statement on Friday that highlighted the fact that families who are struggling already will be hit the hardest.

“Temporarily closing schools is a difficult decision, and I know it was not taken lightly,” the statement read. “We know that families who are struggling with food or housing insecurity, or who are working low-wage jobs, will be disproportionately affected by school closures. We must come together now to support students, families, and our community.”

Bonamici’s statement described the legislation recently put forward by the House that could help those families affected by coronavirus.

“Importantly, the package includes my bipartisan proposal to give USDA and states the flexibility they need to help schools and districts across our nation deliver meals to students during closures caused by COVID-19. It also includes paid emergency leave, enhanced unemployment protections, additional provisions to address food insecurity, and free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs it.”

Complete coverage: Coronavirus
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