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Shuttered until April 28, districts work through challenge of providing meals, distance learning

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - By order of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, schools across the state are closed until at least April 28.

East Multnomah County schools are scrambling to plan for how to handle the extended school closure after Oregon's governor announced Tuesday schools would be closed until at least April 28 to help tamp down the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"We understand that this is a trying time and that the closure of our schools presents challenges to all. Please know that we are doing everything in our power to find and offer resources for our families and staff," the Reynolds School District said in a message sent out to staff and families Tuesday night, March 17, following Gov. Kate Brown's afternoon announcement.

East Multnomah County school districts are meeting virtually to strategize about how to handle the extended closure and what they might do regarding distance learning, meals for hungry students and other considerations for the nearly 30,000 students they educate.

Because this is a rapidly changing situation, districts urge families to visit their websites to get the most updated information on school plans.

Brown earlier had closed school for about two weeks as a way to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has become a global pandemic. Some of the closure fell during the already scheduled spring break, which is from March 23-27.

Under the latest restrictions, schools will remain closed through April 28 and all school events are canceled. School districts are to continue to provide students and their families with the supplemental services families have come to rely on, such as meals, mental health services through the Oregon Department of Education and child care for emergency first responders and essential health care personnel.

Districts are to pay employees during the closure, Brown said.

Keeping East County's school children occupied and learning during the hiatus is challenging for parents and caregivers. Libraries are all closed, as are museums, the Boys & Girls Clubs, pools and recreation centers. Parents are scrambling for childcare if they are still working out of the home.

The school closures are upending other school-related matters. College entrance examination companies that administer the ACT and SAT are canceling and rescheduling testing.

None of the big East County public school districts attempted to convert to online classes for the first closing. Now that school will be out for a more extended period, some districts are exploring distance learning or other possibilities for their pupils.

"We will review options for remote or supplemental learning opportunities for our students," Reynolds said in its Tuesday email.

"While we cannot guarantee at this time that we can provide this type of learning during the closure, please know that we are actively researching ways for our students to stay engaged. We will continue to keep you informed. In the meantime, we will be sending you links to education resources you can use to actively work with your children while they are home," Reynolds said.

Corbett School District said it is "actively and aggressively moving towards a model where we can provide online/remote learning opportunities" for its 1,200 students. Corbett is targeting April 1 to begin remote learning.

Corbett said it will work with families that may not be connected to the internet.

Schools are mandated by Gov. Brown's order to continue to provide meals to hungry students. They had been doing that during the non-spring break portion of the shorter closure. As of Wednesday, districts were still trying to determine how and where they would provide the grab-and-go meals for students during April.

Gresham-Barlow had been supplying meals at eight locations. It will provide take out breakfast and lunch March 30 and 31. They are continuing to provide lunch and breakfast through Friday, March 20. Pick up time for breakfast is 8:30-9 a.m. and lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The district said it may reduce the number of pick up locations going forward.

Reynolds School District is providing curbside meals through Friday, March 20. It is not providing meals during spring vacation, March 23-27. It will announce plans for April meals at a later date.

Centennial School District will serve breakfast for students from 9:30-10:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., March 30 and 31. They also provided meals last week. Meals can be picked up at Centennial High School, near the auditorium at 3505 S.E. 182d Ave. and at Parklane Elementary School, 15811 S.E. Main St.

Corbett School District had a food bag distribution Monday morning, March 16, and said it will work with families in need.

Although school meetings are taking place virtually, cleaning crews are still working in the buildings.

"Our custodians will deep clean all surfaces in our schools, closing off rooms when complete, to ensure they remain disinfected for when students and staff return," Gresham-Barlow said in a letter to families and staff.

A state teacher's union Tuesday evening issued a statement of support for Gov. Brown's order.

"OEA (Oregon Education Association) 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.

"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," Larson's statement said.

Gov. Brown said in her announcement that "I do not take the decision to extend school closures lightly."

She acknowledged, "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."

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For more information

Schools are updating information on their web sites and sending emails to families.

Visit:

Gresham-Barlow School District at: gresham.k12.or.us

Reynolds School District at: reynolds.k12.or.us

Centennial School District at: csd28j.org

Corbett School District at: corbett.k12.or.us


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