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Schools will remain open while 'non-essential' events are suspended through at least April 8

PMG FILE PHOTO - The state restriction on gatherings is effective through April 8. Oregon Trail will continue as usual with classes but suspend all after-school activities. In light of Gov. Kate Brown's March 11 announcement restricting gatherings to 250 participants or fewer, the Oregon Trail School District has canceled all "non-essential" after-school activities through at least Wednesday, April 8.

Brown said public schools should remain open, but all events, such as group parent meetings, field trips and competitions should be cancelled.

Classes at Oregon Trail schools are continuing business as usual, however, band competitions, which had been scheduled for Thursday morning, March 12, in Sandy were canceled, and the Sandy High prom set for April 4 at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom was also postponed with a new date yet to be determined.

"At this time, there are no presumptive cases of COVID-19 in our district," Superintendent Aaron Bayer noted in a release. "We will notify (parents) immediately if this changes, or if we receive additional guidance. The health and safety of our students is our greatest priority. Our custodians are maintaining their efforts to sanitize classrooms and extended learning environments, and we will maintain continuity of academics as much as possible."

Multiple other events around the state, which Sandy students were attending, such as the Poetry Out Loud competition, have been canceled or postponed.

"These decisions are not made lightly," Bayer added. "We understand the impact they have on our students, staff, families, and community, and we ask for your patience as we work through them. Because the issue is evolving, you can expect to hear from us frequently over the coming days.

Institutions go online

Amid the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, state authorities are advising public schools and universities to disinfect, rather than shut down.

That didn't stop two universities and a private, all-girls school from moving all classes online.

St. Mary's Academy, Portland State University and the Univeristy of Oregon all announced Wednesday, March 11 that classes, course work and finals would be moved to a digital learning format. Oregon State University said it would also utilize remote learning and testing as much as possible, but remain open.

PSU said it would keep the campus open, to offer support services, but most classes and final exams would move to an online format, with a remote-learning plan to be rolled out by the end of the week.

St. Mary's Academy, a private, all-girls college preparatory school, announced that it will move to Extended Digital Learning for the week of Monday, March 16.

Under the system, teachers will conduct their classes online, and students will engage in small and large group discussions, participate in activities and complete assignments through an online platform from home.

As of Wednesday, there were no confirmed or presumptive cases of the coronavirus at St. Mary's, which is located in downtown Portland.

The closures were announced three days after guidance issued by state officials earlier in the week advised against school closures. On Sunday, March 8, the Oregon Department of Education, in tandem with the state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Oregon Health Authority, issued guidance to schools and universities, urging them to disinfect, rather than shut down educational buildings.

"At this time, the guidance recommends against closing schools and campuses where no cases of COVID-19 are present," a joint news release stated. "It also recommends that schools, colleges and universities consider all alternatives before closing a school, college or university in the event that a COVID-19 case is detected among students or staff."

The rationale? Schools provide important instruction, and they also serve as the only access to health care and food for many homeless or disadvantaged students.

School districts throughout Oregon say they are monitoring the spread of COVID-19, and more thoroughly disinfecting areas, while encouraging students to wash their hands more frequently.

As of Thursday, Oregon had 21 documented cases of COVID-19 since the first case was announced on Feb. 29.

During that time, three school districts in Oregon have been impacted by the virus. The first caused Forest Hills Elementary School in Lake Oswego to shut down after an employee there tested positive for COVID-19. The school was cleaned and re-opened March 5.

Athena-Weston School District in Umatilla County closed its school gym temporarily and hired a professional cleaning company to disinfect the space, after a spectator at youth basketball game tested positive for COVID-19.

In Hillsboro, South Meadows Middle School was cleaned last weekend, but re-opened as usual to students the following Monday, after a student there tested positive for the upper respiratory disease.

"The student was present at school on Tuesday, March 3, with mild symptoms before self-isolating at home," a letter from Mike Scott, superintendent of the Hillsboro School District, stated.

"We know many parents, students and educators are worried that COVID-19 will appear in their school communities. We want schools and universities to know there are steps they can take to prevent infection and keep students safe, healthy and learning in the classroom," Dr. Dean Sidelinger of the Oregon Health Authority said.

Prior to Wednesday, most Oregon college campuses stayed open, but Sonny Ramaswamy, president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, said Wednesday morning his agency would be issuing guidance to institutions requesting to move to an online-only model for the remainder of the academic year, as the University of Washington did Monday.

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