Oregon schools will remain closed through April 28 under an executive order Gov. Kate Brown issued late Tuesday. The decision comes less than a week after Brown closed schools a week early for spring break, with the expectation of reopening them to students April 1.
Closing schools for more than a month is a stark contrast to Brown's position just a week ago, when she and top education and health officials at the state insisted that schools should stay open given the important role they play students' lives. But in the last few days, as Brown acknowledged in Tuesday's executive order, testing has revealed additional Oregon cases, and there has been one death from COVID-19.
"The number of presumptive or confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Oregon," Brown wrote. "On March 8, 2020, at the time I declared an emergency, there were 14 presumptive or confirmed cases in Oregon. By March 12, 2020, there were 21. As of today, there are at least 65 cases and one death."
Brown said that schools will continue receiving state funding as if they were still in session, and schools will be expected to "continue to regularly pay all employees of public schools." At the same time, the order requires districts to continue offering certain services, including "the provision of child care for first responders, emergency workers, health care professionals, and other individuals" as listed by the Oregon Department of Education. One reason top state officials had been reluctant to close schools — and why they're still helping day care centers stay open — is to free up working adults in critical positions during the virus outbreak.
The order also directs schools to provide education and "learning supports ... to the extent practical." Providing school lunches are required in "non-congregate settings." The order also says that school districts can use buses to deliver meals or to transport students "to and from school-based child care."
The order received immediate support both from two powerful education groups: unionized teachers and the state's school boards association.
“OEA supports Governor Brown’s decision to safeguard the health of students and educators by extending the closure period of Oregon’s public schools,” said OEA president John Larson in a statement. “We also commend the governor for her commitment to maintaining vital nutrition and mental health services for our students, and for directing districts to ensure all school employees are paid during these closures.”
The Oregon School Boards Association wrote in support of the governor's action shortly after the order came out, while simultaneously noting there remain questions about how it will work.
“This is a new reality for all of us, and we appreciate that the governor and her staff are acting quickly against a moving target," OSBA executive director Jim Green said in a written statement.
Among the biggest questions are how to maintain the mission of public schools amid the coronavirus public health crisis: to provide an equitable education to students from a variety of economic levels and backgrounds.
"What we are working on in the short term is figuring out ways to deliver learning to kids remotely, and in many cases ensuring that they are being fed," Green said. "We’re going to get through this, but in the meantime we’ve got dozens of questions to get sorted out and 581,000 students to take care of.”
This story may be updated.