All schools in the Archdiocese of Portland, including O’Hara School in Eugene, will close for the remainder of the month — and possibly longer — starting March 16. (Wikipedia)
All schools in the Archdiocese of Portland, including O’Hara School in Eugene, will close for the remainder of the month — and possibly longer — starting March 16. (Wikipedia)

School administrators in the Archdiocese of Portland have attempted to respond deftly to the new coronavirus based on the latest information — along with forethought, ongoing communication with parents and calm. On Friday, March 13, the archdiocese’s Department of Catholic Schools decided to close all archdiocesan schools from Monday, March 16, through the end of the month as a means to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The department has been following updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon Health Authority. It made the decision after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown ordered the state’s public schools to cancel classes through March 31.

“We know that many families are facing hardships during this unusual time,” said Jeannie Ray-Timoney, Catholic schools superintendent, in a statement March 13. “It is affecting everyone in different ways. We pray that each of you will experience God’s grace to guide you through.”

Schools have plans in place for distance/digital learning to keep the educational process moving forward, according to the schools department, and each school has communicated its plan to students and parents. The department previously had asked all schools to create strategies that would allow for continued instruction if they were forced to close temporarily.

Before the school buildings were shut, schools had amped up efforts to prevent the spread of germs. School communities were reminded regularly to practice the recommendations from the CDC, including what’s become a national mantra — to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (approximately one round of the ABCs, or a reverent Hail Mary).

“Right now we are trying not to go into panic mode,” said Franciscan Sister Therese Gutting, head of Franciscan Montessori Earth School in Southeast Portland, a few days before the school closures were announced.

Regis-St. Mary in Stayton, Marist in Eugene and Central Catholic in Portland are all archdiocesan high schools and follow directives from the schools department. Non-archdiocesan high schools are also choosing to move to online learning, including Valley Catholic in Beaverton and St. Mary in Medford.

“Students will have zero disruption in their education as all courses will be taught by St. Mary’s teachers online,” read a press release from St. Mary.

St. Mary’s Academy and Jesuit High School in Southwest Portland also have opted for digital learning.

There have been no presumptive cases of the virus at the schools, but administrators are attempting to slow the spread as national and regional health officials indicate social distancing is a key component in lessening the impact.

Principals were told that if the schools fall below the minimum number of instructional days, the superintendent will determine next steps.

The University of Portland switched to all online instruction as of March 16.

Some Archdiocese of Portland seminarians are studying in Italy, the worst-hit country after China. As of this printing, here have been more than 1,800 COVID-19-related deaths in Italy, with total number of cases hitting nearly 25,000.

The Italian government ordered closure of universities, including those attended by students at the Pontifical North American College. Though classes halted, in-house formation has continued.

Sarah Bertrand of the archdiocese’s clergy office said there are no plans to bring Oregon seminarians home. Father Adam Park, vice rector at the North American College, said in a note to vocations directors that travel may cause more chance for exposure than staying put in the school.

Prior to the closures, staff at schools throughout western Oregon tried to combat misinformation among young students and help them process emotions.

“We recognize students can be nervous and feel helpless,” said Tammy Conway, principal of O’Hara School in Eugene a few days before the schools closed. School staff encouraged young people to pray for those who are affected, she said, and for all “our wonderful medical professionals who are caring for them.”

For updates from the Portland archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools, go to: schools.archdpdx.org/coronavirus