Sign of the Times

As schools in Columbia County and across the state closed to slow the spread of coronavirus, this message was spotted on the reader board at Lewis and Clark Elementary School in St. Helens.

Kids in Clatskanie and Rainier are out of school for an extended spring break, parents are struggling to deal with the extension and school officials are anxious to see the coronavirus helath crisis end.

On March 17, Gov. Kate Brown announced an extension of Oregon’s statewide school closure she had ordered on March 12, to a total of six weeks, through April 28. That order followed an initial two-week closure of Oregon’s schools to end on March 31.

Brown also issued further guidance for Oregon’s public schools.

  • Districts are to provide learning supports and supplemental services to students and families during the closure period, including meals and child care. This includes the delivery of food assistance and offering child care for essential health care professionals and first responders.
  • School districts may call on public school educators and employees to deliver limited learning and support services.
  • Each district will pay all their regular employees during the closure.
  • The Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Health Authority, and Department of Human Services are directed to support public schools in the continuity of mental health services.

“I do not take the decision to extend school closures lightly,” Brown said. “This will have real impacts on Oregon’s students, parents and educators. But we must act now to flatten the curve and slow the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Oregon, otherwise we face a higher strain on our medical system and greater loss of life to this disease.”

Following the initial school closure order, Clatskanie School District Superintendent Cathy Hurowitz called the situation frustrating for all involved.

“Right now it is very fluid and a frustrating situation,” she said. “I am concerned for my families, my students and my staff. I like to plan and to be proactive. We have been put into a position where all school districts have to be reactive and not be proactive.”

Rainier School District Superintendent Michael Carter said his school administration and staff is working hard to ensure the safety of the entire community.

“So that is our primary focus and we are not frustrated, but very focused on our mission,” Carter said. “Our primary mission is our focus and we will be successful by working together always serving the needs of others. Please remember, we are in uncharted territory and that things change hourly as the circumstances change. We will make it past this crisis and in the end we will be stronger because of our joint efforts.”

Rainier, Clatskanie, St. Helens and Scappoose School Districts continue to provide student meals at various Grab-and-Go sites. For specific locations, visit the school districts’ websites.

Late Wednesday night, March 18, Brown issued an executive order directing Oregon’s higher education institutions to move their curriculum to online learning, prohibiting in-person classroom interactions through April 28.

“I know students have worked hard this school year, and we’re doing everything we can to help them safely finish their learning,” Brown said. “But we’re also learning more about this disease every day, and social distancing is key to keeping Oregonians safe. I understand there are seniors getting ready to graduate this spring, and I want to assure them that our universities and community colleges are working hard to make sure they can get their diplomas.”

The executive order also limits on-campus operations to critical functions, such as dining services and dormitories — all of which are directed to employ social distancing — as a way to ensure students have a safe place to live and eat, since some may not otherwise have housing options.

“Governor Brown’s clear guidance will help Oregon’s colleges and universities statewide to move forward into spring term with the utmost priority placed on the health of our communities, while they continue their educational missions during this extraordinarily hard time,” Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission director Ben Cannon said.

Cannon said the students, faculty and staff who are impacted by the changes should know that the important roles they play in this transformation are all critical to help slow the growth of COVID-19.

“Shifting almost entirely to remote delivery will help ensure that Oregon’s colleges and universities can continue to prepare thousands of students with degrees and certificates they are working so hard to achieve,” Cannon said.

Follow developments online at thechiefnews.com and in the Friday print editions of The Chief.

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