Education leaders scramble to plan for hungry students and no school
Friday, March 13, 2020
Creekside Community High School culinary arts teacher Radha Rogers loads food Friday to be delivered to students' homes. With the Tigard school closing, Rogers came to work to clean out the kitchen and help prepare food boxes for students. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Educators are desperately racing to create plans for Oregon’s impending school closure, with food for students among the most pressing challenges.
After the Tigard-Tualatin School Board closed its schools Thursday night, effective immediately, Creekside Community High School Principal Russ Romas got on the phone with his staff.
On Friday morning, the Tigard school’s employees carried boxes and bags of food to waiting vehicles to deliver directly to families. They cleared out the food pantry and the cooking class’s kitchen and combined it with a regular food pickup from a local grocery store. The deliveries had printed information about food pantries and other resources.
“We want to make sure our families are taken care of,” said re-engagement specialist Brenda Avila. “Some don’t know how to ask for help, but we have to help them.”
Gov. Kate Brown abruptly announced Thursday night that in the face of the growing coronavirus pandemic, schools would be closed from Monday until April 1.
As of Friday afternoon, districts were looking for more guidance.
“They told us our schools are closed, but they didn’t tell us what that means,” said Medford Superintendent Bret Champion.
Medford began outlining plans for staff employment, creating ways to offer children some learning and setting up meal distribution in partnership with community efforts.
“We made the decisions we could make and then asked for any information from the state and began to improvise with our best guesses,” Champion said.
More than 270,000 Oregon students daily are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches through their schools, according to the 2018-19 Statewide Report Card. Public schools also provide breakfasts, snacks and after-school meals. Many teachers stock their classrooms with oatmeal and snack bars for hungry students.
The Gladstone School District is setting up a curbside meal service similar to its summer program, available to all, according to Superintendent Bob Stewart. Families can drive up or walk up and receive breakfast and lunch at the same time. The curbside plan minimizes clean-up and helps with social distancing that limits the spread of the coronavirus.
The district also has a food pantry open twice a week.
The Tigard-Tualatin School District is offering “grab-and-go” breakfasts and lunches at two elementary schools, according to Traci Rose, director of community relations. All district students are welcome, regardless of age or need. Schools are also putting together food boxes and backpacks for families.
Tigard-Tualatin was on the leading edge of school closure planning, but it will still be making decisions next week. The district is considering continuing the meal offerings through spring break week.
Districts around the state report similar plans still developing for ready-to-take meals available at schools for all students. Some hope to increase their scope as they get more organized.
West Linn-Wilsonville will have grab-and-go meals for all students in at least two schools on Monday and hopes to have it at them all eventually, said Andrew Kilstrom, district communications director. The district is also looking at setting up food stations at some of the larger apartment complexes that have students and planning meal deliveries through spring break, he said.
The district’s plan, though, is still waiting on more input from the state, Kilstrom said.
“Like every other district, we’re waiting to see what comes from ODE … on some of the expectations,” Kilstrom said.
Brown’s order closing schools asked schools to continue nutrition services for students. It was not immediately clear what exactly would be required of schools.
In Washington on Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee closed all schools from March 17 through at least April 24. Inslee had already ordered schools closed in three counties, and continued meal distribution had been one of the major concerns. District plans include school sites, drive-up and walk-up services, and meal order forms. Districts are checking their plans with local health services. Community services are also stepping up their food distribution.
Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill was talking Friday afternoon with superintendents to offer more guidance on Oregon's closure. Districts have an avalanche of questions on issues such as instructional hours, testing requirements and union agreements.
Gladstone’s Stewart said he wished there had been more time between the announcement and the closures but he understands the challenge of getting more information out.
“I think they have so many things that they are trying to figure out that it is an impossible task,” he said.