(Update: Adding video, more comments from officers)
WARM SPRINGS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- More than 600 students and families in Warm Springs face a new reality, with schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Warm Springs K-8 Academy School Resource Officer Kevin O’Brien.
“There are parents who are used to having their kids gone for a certain portion of the day, to having them at home full-time," O'Brien said Wednesday. "I would assume they’ve taken on the role of teacher, all but completely.”
The officer said living in a rural area with limited access to internet and telephone service can be a barrier to distance learning, and his role as a liaison between the school and the families is crucial.
“Where we’re at is awfully rural, and the telephone service is sometimes not there, the internet service is mostly not there,” O’Brien said. “So if they have trouble getting into contact with students or families, I may go out and do that personally.”
Last spring, O’Brien ran a pilot DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education class for fifth-grade students, as part of the school’s after-school program.
This year’s students were unable to finish the DARE class together in person. Warm Springs police Lt. Ron Gregory said O'Brien wanted to make sure his students' hard work was recognized.
"Once this closure happened, the kids haven’t graduated yet," Gregory said. "So he went out and personally delivered the T-shirts and memorabilia they earned through the program."
The officers said the school continues food deliveries for the students and has 11 different drop sites.
"A lot of our officers have stepped up to help with food deliveries and get resource packets out to students, just to touch base with our community members," Gregory said.
Twice a week, Gregory said, a separate vehicle delivers homework packets, and Warm Springs officers follow along those routes.
The officers said their goal is to give the Warm Springs community some sense of normalcy during the pandemic.
"We want to continue their education as much as possible and support the students, the parents and the school," Gregory said.
O'Brien added that the time spent outside of school and closer to home poses a social challenge for students who are used to seeing their peers every day. Now, he said, parents also have to cope with children whose energy may be bottled up while having to stay indoors.
He said it's important to be a familiar face for the students and act as a liaison between the school administration and the families.
"I know a lot of the kids," O'Brien said. "I have access to a lot of the kids every day, so it’s easier for them to relate to me than sometimes it is for an officer they don’t know.”
To learn more about Warm Springs K-8 Academy and their COVID-19 updates, visit their website.