The Forest Grove High School. Photo: Brenda Schaffer

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SALEM - Starting Monday, March 16, Governor Kate Brown will direct all Oregon school districts to close K-12 schools through Tuesday, March 31. 

The move comes as pressure mounted on Brown — from the actions of neighboring states, districts and private schools that opted to close in Oregon, doctors, and parents — to close students in an effort to reduce exposure to the coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. 

Brown had said that school closures would be considered only as a last resort, citing concerns about students not having access to school-provided lunches, and the strain that having students at home might have on working parents in Oregon. 

“Schools are critical institutions that provide important services for all our students, but especially our most vulnerable, and during this crisis I have worked hard to ensure those critical services continue. So many of our families depend on school in order for parents to go to their jobs, and for students to access health care and receive nutrition assistance,” said Governor Brown in a press release issued at 10:10 p.m. Thursday night.

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However, 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. Schools are experiencing critical shortages in staff, and superintendents are concerned for school personnel who are at elevated risk such as those over age 60 and those with underlying medical issues.

I want to be very clear: sending Oregon children home will not stop the spread of the coronavirus. While children are home, when at all possible, they should not be in the care of older adults or those with underlying health issues that are most at-risk from 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. 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,” Brown said. 

During the closure, school districts will be required to develop plans for returning to school that accommodate the ongoing impacts of the novel coronavirus. 

Districts are also tasked with finding a way to continue nutrition assistance throughout the closure. 

At the same time , the Oregon Department of Education is directed to examine the impact the closure will have on students’ instructional time.

School districts must also ensure that cleaning supplies are on hand to tackle increased cleaning protocols when students are — currently — scheduled to return on April 1. 

And to address the concern of childcare, the state’s Early Learning Division be required to identify resources to support child care needs for vulnerable families, according to the press release.

According to Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education, the closure timeline will be reevaluated in late March.

More information will be forthcoming at a press conference with gov. Brown, state agency directors, and superintendents, scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday morning.