The takeover by an armed group of a federal wildlife refuge in remote southeastern Oregon has forced schools in the area to close for the week.
“Ensuring staff and student safety is our greatest concern,” Marilyn L. McBride, the superintendent of Harney County School District #3, wrote in an e-mail. Schools were originally scheduled to reopen Monday following the winter break.
The rural district now will not reopen until Jan. 11. Its three schools — one elementary, one middle and one high — are located in Burns, Ore., a town of fewer than 3,000 residents about 30 miles from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The armed men — whom some are calling domestic terrorists — took over the refuge headquarters this weekend, saying that they were protesting the fate of two local ranchers who were convicted of arson and have been sentenced to federal prison.
The anti-government group has said it plans to stay at the refuge indefinitely and the protesters have claimed that they are willing to use violence if authorities attempt to remove them.
The closure of Harney County schools due to this eruption in the West’s long-running land use wars means that 2016 is picking up right where 2015 left off. In December, Los Angeles officials shuttered schools for that city’s 640,000 students due to an emailed threat of violence.
That same month, threats forced the closure of schools in Nashua, N.H., and a school district in Augusta County, Va., closed for a day due to an avalanche of angry messages about a class assignment involving Islam.