Many Eastern Oregon school children are getting a few more days of holiday this week near Burns. Parents and school officials are worried about security for children since an armed group began occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
A voice message to parents on the Harney County School District 3 phone line said, “staff and student safety is our greatest concern.” Nearly a dozen Burns-area schools are closed. Some won’t start again until at least Jan. 11, while others are assessing closures day-by-day like the tiny elementary in the community of Diamond.
Some of these rural elementary schools have as few as a half-dozen children from kindergarten through eighth grade — all in the same classroom. At Crane Union High School, about 40 miles southeast of Burns, many of the students stay in dormitories during the week because their families’ ranches can be so far away it’s impractical to commute daily.
With temperatures are in the single digits near Burns, many kids are stuck inside. Still, ranching moms told me besides movies, there are always farm chores: Fuel-tanker runs to town, feeding winter-penned cattle and breaking iced-over water for horses.