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Schools In A Wide Swath Around Burns Close Down For Security

Amanda Peacher
The prospect of hundreds of out-of-towners who openly carry firearms concern some in Burns. Fliers with the message ''Militia go home'' hang on signposts downtown.

Many eastern Oregon school children are getting a few more days of holiday this week near Burns. Parents and school officials are worried about security for children since an armed group began occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

A voice message to parents on the Harney County School District 3 phone line said, "staff and student safety is our greatest concern.” Nearly a dozen Burns-area schools are closed. Some won’t start again until at least January 11, while others are assessing closures day-by-day like the tiny elementary in the community of Diamond.

Some of these rural elementary schools have as few as a half-dozen children from kindergarten through eighth grade -- all in the same classroom. At Crane Union High School, about 40 miles southeast of Burns, many of the students stay in dormitories during the week because their families’ ranches can be so far away it's impractical to commute daily.

With temperatures in the single digits near Burns, many kids are stuck inside. Still, ranching moms told me besides movies, there are always farm chores: Fuel-tanker runs to town, feeding winter-penned cattle and breaking iced-over water for horses.

Visit OPB News for the latest news and updates about the armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.