School districts around Oregon and Washington are dealing with the impacts of wildfires on the start of a school year already destabilized by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several districts have delayed the start of the school year or canceled school this week.
Salem-Keizer schools will start for students in grades K-12 Wednesday, with time to meet with a teacher and classmates. Instruction will begin Thursday.
“While we focus on everyone’s safety, we are making changes to next week’s back-to-school schedule," said Superintendent Christy Perry in a statement.
Springfield and Eugene 4j have both delayed the beginning of the school year, starting September 21 instead of September 14.
“The Holiday Farm Fire has already impacted large portions of our district staff, students and their families, indirectly affecting us all as we care for, worry for and work to support our family, friends and neighbors,” according to a release from Springfield Public Schools.
“In addition, the district is working to provide resources – including food and space to sleep – for many organizations working to provide aide, shelter, relief and safety to our community.”
Springfield will distribute technology and WiFi devices to students next week, with staggered in-person instruction planned for students in grades kindergarten through third grade.
Wildfires have impacted communities throughout western, central, and southern the parts of the state. On Wednesday, more than 20 school districts canceled class or school-related activities.
Schools are posting messages of support to help families and provide resources. Santiam Elementary School principal Margo Williams posted on Facebook Thursday, asking families to check in.
“I have been worried sick about everyone and wanted to see if you all were safe," Williams wrote in the post.
Meal service, technology distribution, and child care have been impacted as well.
In Oregon City, nutrition services and transportation worked to deliver food to evacuees Wednesday. The district continued meal service Thursday.
“Transportation vans and small busses were dispersed to those sites to ensure families were fed who were unable to get food in their rush to evacuate their homes,” according to the district’s Facebook page.
Districts closer to the Portland metro area have also been impacted by the wildfires to a lesser degree. Technology distribution for the David Douglas School District, North Clackamas School District, and some Portland schools was canceled due to smoke and poor air quality. Remote learning was canceled Thursday at two schools in Battle Ground, Washington, due to “fire evacuation alerts.”
The Oregon Department of Education said its advising school districts to work with emergency management. ODE is prepared to work with districts by providing technical assistance and help altering due dates for “certain reports and grant applications.”
For families whose school district is unable to provide meals, ODE advises students to go to another school if possible.