The Tigard Tualatin School Board voted Thursday evening to close schools, effective Friday March 13. Students will be allowed to retrieve their belongings on the morning of the 13th.
The district’s plan is to reopen the school to staff March 30 and to students March 31.
The district southwest of Portland is the first to close amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.
Lake Oswego School District soon followed suit, with the board voting to use school closure days (usually intended for snow days or inclement weather) to close school Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 20.
Ashland School District in southern Oregon will also close next week. In a statement to families, Superintendent Kelly Raymond acknowledged the uncertainty the closure will cause families in need of childcare.
“We are working with our community partners to determine what supports can be provided during this time,” Raymond said in a statement to families sent Thursday.
Tigard-Tualatin and Lake Oswego’s decisions bucks guidelines from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday, which stressed that schools and universities should stay open, at the same time that they banned gatherings of 250 people or more.
Most Oregon schools have remained open, even amid growing concerns that continuing school would leave students, staff, and whole school communities at risk for spreading the Coronavirus.
That includes Beaverton, Salem-Keizer and Portland Public Schools.
Many school districts in the state have said they will suspend all non-essential school based activities for at least 30 days. That means assemblies, field trips and professional development for teachers will all be canceled.
But districts are going in opposite directions on some decisions. For example, the Parkrose School District canceled upcoming parent-teacher conferences. But in the Corvallis School District, schools will continue to host conferences, though they’ve said schools will “have a different format to allow for increased physical space.”
While schools have stayed open, attendance has dropped. Parents and guardians around the state have decided to keep children home out of concern.
State law requires students to be dropped from attendance rolls if they are absent for more than 10 consecutive days. ODE has exceptions, but in the case of a disease outbreak, the exception applies to students who are sick or are otherwise forced to be at home by. It doesn’t appear to exempt students whose parents choose to keep them home, even in the event of a pandemic.
Other school districts around the country have closed school, including school districts in Washington, Ohio, and Maryland.
The Portland Association of Teachers, the union representing PPS teachers, said Thursday that PPS needs to plan for closure.
“All our schools have more than 250 students in them,” PAT President Suzanne Cohen said, in reference to Gov. Brown’s ban on public gatherings with more than 250 people.
Cohen expects the district to close and she has asked the district to tell educators and families when it’s coming – so they can prepare.
“There’s a lot of care and compassion for everyone, but there is this growing feeling that all the disinfectant wipes and Purell in the classroom just isn’t enough – it isn’t reaching every classroom fast enough, and that it’s no longer the right response given the information we have now,” Cohen said.
One of the main issues keeping schools from closing is the services schools provide to students beyond instruction.
Some school district officials say they’ve been contemplating and planning for how to offer meals and other services while schools are closed, but those plans are just that at this point – plans.
Both Tigard-Tualatin and Ashland will offer breakfast and lunch for students during the school closure. TTSD will offer “grab-and-go” lunches for any student from preschool through 12th grade. Ashland officials are still working on details related to meals.
Some students are taking things into their own hands, starting petitions to close their schools.
And for some of Oregon’s private schools, deciding to close means a transition to digital learning. Catlin Gabel, Central Catholic, Oregon Episcopal School, Jesuit High School, St. Mary’s Academy, and Jesuit High have all announced plans to transition to digital learning Friday, March 13 or next week.
At St. Mary’s Academy, the all-girls Catholic high school already has a program where every student has an iPad. With those devices, students can have an “online school day” with lectures and discussions.
“We have an extended digital learning protocol that includes essentially a school day from home for our students,” said St. Mary’s Academy’s Jennifer Masi.
Oregon’s public schools could soon begin announcing closures. As the Tigard-Tualatin School District board was voting to close school for two weeks, the Lake Oswego School District was holding an emergency meetings to possibly take the same step.
This story will be updated.