Tigard-Tualatin School Board Chair and OSBA Board President-elect Maureen Wolf (second from left) led a thorough discussion of school closure ramifications with school leaders, employee representatives, student representatives and others Thursday night. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Oregon officially closed all schools starting next week to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, but some school boards had already taken emergency steps to close their schools.
Gov. Kate Brown announced late Thursday a statewide closure of K-12 schools from Monday, March 16, through Tuesday, March 31. That period includes spring break week, which schools already had off.
“I have heard from superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents, and students that it has now become impossible to functionally operate schools due to workforce issues and student absences,” Brown said in a release.
OSBA supports the governor’s announcement, which was a marked departure from the state’s earlier plans to try to keep schools open.
“This situation is changing hourly, and these are incredibly uncertain times,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green. “Above all we are doing our best to keep our students and communities safe.”
The closure timeline will be re-evaluated in late March with input from administrators, according to Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill.
Other states are taking similar steps, according to news reports. Ohio has closed all public and private schools for three weeks. Maryland has closed schools for two weeks. Michigan has closed schools until April 5. New Mexico and the District of Columbia have also closed schools, and Kentucky’s governor recommended all schools halt in-person classes.
In Washington, Seattle Public Schools has closed for two weeks, and Gov. Jay Inslee closed the schools in three counties.
Events moved rapidly Thursday.
Early in the day, Brown held a news conference regarding her order from the evening before to ban all public gatherings larger than 250 people until April 8. She urged schools to remain open but to cancel all group activities, such as field trips, parent meetings and competitions. Brown said closing schools should be a “last resort.”
Tigard High School abruptly postponed a long-planned all-day Unity Day program Thursday that included large student workshops. About 15 minutes into the first period, Principal Brian Bailey announced over the intercom that the school near Portland would shift to a normal school day, even though most students didn’t have their supplies and instructors had not planned on teaching.
Spanish teacher Jacquelyn Youngerman did her best to reassure students and answer their questions, but she admitted she had never faced a situation like this before.
Some school leaders, faced with mounting uncertainty and growing community fears, decided that evening that closure was the best option.
The Tigard-Tualatin School Board, in an emergency meeting Thursday night before the governor’s announcement, voted to close immediately, with students to return March 31.
“We can’t afford to take a risk,” said Tigard-Tualatin School Board member Ben Bowman.
The governor’s closure will add at least one more day to their plan. Other districts took action Thursday night as well, with some starting their closures immediately.
The Lake Oswego School Board, also in an emergency meeting before the announcement, voted to close all next week, with students returning March 30. Now they, too, will need to extend their plan.
The school board discussions covered a host of complications, starting with whether students, staff and families were safer with children in schools or at home. Officials considered issues including equity of learning opportunities, food security for students, staff pay, education requirements and whether two weeks would even be long enough.
Districts are also closing their fields, buildings and other facilities to community partners.
The Oregon School Activities Association on Thursday canceled all remaining winter state championships. Collegiate and national sports leagues have also canceled events.
The governor’s order asks school districts to develop plans to continue nutrition services for students, a step already being taken at some schools.
The order also directs districts to develop plans for returning to school that can accommodate ongoing coronavirus developments as well as increased cleaning protocols.
The Oregon Department of Education will look at the effects on instructional time.
ODE has created a coronavirus page that includes advice and resource documents for schools and families in eight languages. An OHA page offers up-to-date information on the outbreak. The National School Boards Association, which this week canceled its planned April 4-6 annual conference in Chicago, also offers resources and tools.