PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a statewide closure for all K-12 schools from March 16 to March 31.
Brown’s office said in a statement the decision was made after considering “staffing challenges and health concerns due to the public health threat of coronavirus.”
The governor cautioned that sending students home will not stop the spread of the coronavirus and students should not be in the care of older adults or those who are at-risk for COVID-19.
“This is a trying time for our community and I am reluctant to increase the burden on families who are already struggling to adapt to and stay healthy during this crisis,” said Brown. “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.”
During the closure, school districts are required to develop plans for returning to school, continuing meal services and ensuring adequate cleaning supplies for increased cleaning protocols. The Oregon Department of Education is tasked with studying the impact the closure will have on the school year. Brown also ordered the Early Learning Division to support child care programs and child care needs for vulnerable families, healthcare workers and first responders.
Brown will hold a teleconference call at 11 a.m. on Friday. KOIN 6 News will provide updates.
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.”
Lebanon Community School District
In a Facebook post on Thursday night, the Lebanon Community School District said schools would be closed on Friday due to a possible case of COVID-19. Staff members are to report to their buildings by 10 a.m.
Portland Public Schools
In a letter to families and staff members on Friday night, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said Spring Break will be expanded and will start March 16. Staff will return March 30 and students will return to schools on April 1. PPS said custodial staff will continue to clean schools during the closure. More information on student meals will be sent to parents within a few days, PPS said.
Guerrero stated the following, in part:
“Schools are essential to communities. We know that extending spring break will cause difficulties for many families who rely on their schools for meals, health care, and a safe place to be during the day. Because of this, we do not take this decision lightly. But we have to be responsible not only as educators and caretakers, but as members of the larger community in which we live and work. Extending spring break is a preventative measure to help slow the rate of spread of coronavirus and, as public health agencies explain, flatten the curve of the virus’s impact on our citizens and health care systems. We are also sensitive to the fact that many of our staff are older individuals with whom we share concern for their health and therefore want to limit exposure.”
Parkrose School District
Parkrose Middle School and Parkrose High School will be open to students on Friday but elementary schools will be closed. Parent-teacher conferences are canceled. All schools will be closed March 16-31.
Tigard-Tualatin School District
The board of directors for the Tigard-Tualatin School District voted unanimously to close all schools starting Friday. Licensed staff members will return March 30 and classes will resume March 31. All extracurricular activities are also suspended.
Students can come to school to get their belongings until noon on Friday. Grab-and-go meals including breakfast will still be served to students from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Students will not be able to eat inside.
Lake Oswego School District
The Lake Oswego School Board decided Thursday to use snow days to close all schools in the district starting next week. Classes will still be held Friday, though the board of directors expects lower attendance. Students will return to school on March 30.
Greater Albany School District
All schools closed Friday, March 13 through March 31.
Unions call for swift action
The Portland Association of Teachers met with Portland Public Schools administrators Thursday evening, calling on PPS to formulate a closure plan.
“After all the news and the governor’s issue last night, it became very clear that we do need to close our schools and we need to start planning for it immediately,” said PAT President Suzanne Cohen.
Some PPS teachers have expressed concerns about students who are too young or who are unable to follow the hygiene practices needed to stop the coronavirus, according to Cohen.
“It’s hard to teach the standards when there is a pandemic going on,” she said.
Cohen is also concerned about a shortage of supplies.
“There are not enough disinfectant wipes for every classroom,” she said. “I mean, they are getting more — PPS is doing everything it can — but I think the situation is beyond keeping schools going.”
Cohen also feels it’s important to immediately initiate a plan to help the district’s most vulnerable children because “if we wait too long, we are all going to be sick and not able to help anyone.”
Jared Wiener is the dad of a preschooler. He said the governor’s advice on social distancing made him wonder if kids should do the same.
“I’m not overly concerned about the safety of my daughter, she’s a very resilient person, but the bigger concern is more the societal risk,” he said. “Young children are all disgusting by nature and we love them anyway but the fact that we are putting a group of small humans in this space — in close proximity to each other — is a bit concerning to me.”
Wiener believes consistency is important.
“The fact that they are going to be in close proximity with each other while we, at the same time, are encouraging adults not to do the same thing — it seems like it is not necessarily the message that seems to be conducive to what we are trying to achieve,” he said.