Governor Kate Brown delivered a message of uncertainly about Oregon's public schools Friday afternoon.
A day after directing all Oregon public school districts to close until March 31, Brown said that according to the Oregon Health Authority and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, school closures are not expected to slow the spread of the coronavirus. During a Friday press call, Brown told reporters that the widespread school closures are the result of schools being overwhelmed by staffing shortages—not to stop COVID-19's spread. Many school workers are over 60 or have underlying health conditions, Brown said, meaning they should stay home during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It has become very clear that the demands of this crisis were quickly pushing our schools to their breaking point,” Brown said. “We are left with little choice in sight of school district staff capacity and health concerns.”
Brown acknowledged that the school closures will likely cause Oregon’s “most vulnerable families [to] be disproportionately impacted,” because those families rely on schools for services like subsidized meals, health care and child care. She said the state is “working to identify and provide childcare coverage for frontline workers"— parents who cannot work from home while their kids are unexpectedly out of school.
She did not give more information about what that coverage will look like.
Oregon Department of Education (ODE) Director Colt Gill, also on the call, said that the state is directing districts to continue providing free meals to low-income students during the closure. He said the plan for how to do that will be left up to each individual district.
“This will look different district-to-district in Oregon,” Gill said. “Some will be ready to start this on Monday, and some will not.”
Gill said ODE is also directing districts to develop a plan to re-open on April 1, after spring break, with reduced staff and using social-distancing and reinforced cleaning practices. He added that some districts might need to prepare for longer closures.
As Oregon’s COVID-19 situation continues to change, so too could all of the information and guidance about school closures.
“Conversations that we have in the morning sometimes change radically in the afternoon,” Gill said.