Molalla, Colton schools reveal closure plans
UPDATE: On Tuesday, March 17, Governor Kate Brown extended the school closures until April 28.
Amid escalating concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the cancellation of virtually every public gathering in March, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced late on Thursday, March 12 that all public schools would close through the end of the month, and later extended that through April 28.
Brown had announced on March 11 that schools should cancel non-essential activities but remain open. The next day, she ordered that schools close statewide through March 31. Then on Tuesday, she extended the closures through April 28.
"This is a trying time for our community and I am reluctant to increase the burden on families who are already struggling to adapt to and stay healthy during this crisis," Brown said in a press release. "However, we are left with little choice in light of school districts' staff capacity and operational concerns."
She cautioned that the closure will not stop the spread of the coronavirus and suggested that children at home should not be placed in the care of older adults or persons with health conditions that put them at risk.
At this point, students are scheduled to return to school in late April, but that could change. According to the director of the Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill, timelines will be reevaluated.
"We will continue to monitor the situation and will provide additional guidance in advance of students returning to school after this closure," Molalla River School District said in a social media post late Thursday night. "In the meantime, please look for updates on our website."
In addition to the closure of the schools, all school activities, including athletic events and even practices, are canceled. All school facilities are closed to the public.
The Oregon Schools Activities Association canceled all winter sports state championships. Also among canceled events is the state FFA convention, which was scheduled for March 19-22. Oregon FFA announced Thursday that they will not reschedule the event, but that they will reschedule "the components" of the convention.
"We know that there are outstanding questions in the community, and that the activities that are being canceled are things that community members look forward to," Molalla Superintendent Tony Mann said in his Thursday letter.
Mann noted some upcoming events are scheduled to take place after the governor's four-week timeline has passed, such as high school prom, field trips and more. He said the district will have to "think carefully" about those.
"We're going to make decisions one step at a time," Mann said.
During the school closures, custodians will continue working to deep clean the buildings, according to letters Mann and Colton Superintendent Koreen Barreras-Brown sent to their school communities Friday.
Additionally, the school districts will continue to provide access to meals. Molalla will offer grab-and-go meals for anyone 18 years old and younger from 9:15-11:15 a.m. during the closure at Molalla Elementary School. Colton will offer lunch to school district students from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the high school cafeteria.
"We will make it through the challenges ahead," Mann said in his letter. "We will do this for the benefit of our families, friends and neighbors, and we will do it most importantly for our children and the future."
It's unclear how the closures might affect the start of summer vacation in June. However, Brown noted in her release that ODE will examine the impact the closure will have on instructional time.
In Molalla, Mann said the district is working to prepare for extended closure.
"Specifically, at the secondary level, we are preparing to mobilize online learning options if necessary in April," Mann said. "Our first priority will be assuring high school seniors continue toward on-time graduation. From there, we have prioritized online learning for all secondary students grades 6-12."
For Molalla's elementary students, schools have already prepared take-home learning materials for each student. The "learning go bags" were ready for pick-up from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday, March 17. Parents were encouraged to pick up the materials, while keeping a safe distance from others. Parents who cannot pick up during that timeframe should contact their school principal for support.
As for Colton, while Barreras-Brown called the coronavirus situation "dynamic and unprecedented," she said that the closure will be treated like any other emergency closure.
"We may need to make up instructional time missed by extending the school calendar further into June," she said in her letter.
Both Molalla and Colton school districts are following the guidance of not only the governor, but also health authorities and their existing pandemic plans.
The overarching guidance from all sources is to wash hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, cover mouths when coughing or sneezing, avoid large crowds and stay home if you're feeling ill.
To see the districts' COVID-19 updates, visit their websites at molallariv.k12.or.us and colton.k12.or.us/csd.
This story has been updated.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.