Editor’s note: This is an ongoing story, and will be updated with information pertinant to the Enumclaw and White River school districts when it becomes available.
All schools in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties will be closed for the next month after an announcement made by Governor Jay Inslee. School districts in the rest of the state are being told to prepare for a state-wide closure in the upcoming days.
During a press conference at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, Inslee announced the closures in response to the Washington COVID-19 outbreak. Just a day before Inslee also announced a proclamation to ban all events or gatherings with crowds of 250 or more people.
“During times of uncertainty and risk, we all have to make tough decisions,” Inslee said. “This is one of them.”
Inslee also advised all college campuses should prepare for potential closures as well.
Inslee said he spoke with superintendents from all three counties to create contingent plans to keep providing meals and shelter for low-income and homeless students. He said the state is also speaking with nonprofits to help provide meals to neighborhoods.
“We know that districts vary widely in their capabilities to provide these tele-education systems,” Inslee said. “So schools should not be providing online services unless they prove effective.”
Inslee also said superintendents should provide childcare for no cost to medical care employees.
“Now is a time for us to come together, and I encourage local education associations to work with their educators as much as possible to ensure the health of students and staff,” Inslee said.
While the proclamation is only for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, Inslee said he may include other counties in the future and districts should start making plans.
“I trust the districts in the rest of the state will have conversations with their communities to be ready,” he said.
The Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruct Chris Reykdal said schools remained a safe place and rates of COVID-19 in children are low, but consistently changing situations have led to the closures. Teens and children may never be symptomatic, he said, but they can spread the virus to grandparents and vulnerable family members.
The three counties include over 600,000 students, nearly half of the student population in the state.
Reykdal said he expects schools to start within a month, but that could change.
Attendance numbers in the three counties show an 82 percent increase in absences during the outbreak, Reykdal said. Staff attendance is also down, and many bus drivers and substitute teachers are over the age of 60 and are not attending work.
“The outbreak continues to expand … you’ve seen those numbers and seen where they are located,” Reykdal said. “I want to say to folks who keep thinking this is like the flu … we don’t have a vaccination for this and that’s quite a way out.”
Reykdal also said this will give school leaders a chance to prepare for this upcoming fall in COVID-19 rises again with the usual flu and cold season.
Reykdal also called out local labor unions to gather and help prepare districts and to work with district leaders for teachers’ issues.
“We are going to keep sending money to our school districts,” Reykdal said. “It will still include transportation and supporting individuals. This will take an enormous economic impact on our state and our nation. Our hourly workers are challenged … we are working to try to figure out strategies to keep compensation flowing. And every single family who needs a meal can come to our schools. If you are a working family and you find yourself in a difficult situation, there is not going to be a long line to get a nutritious breakfast or lunch for your children.”
High school seniors and their parents will need to be in contact with their high schools for graduation requirements, Reykdal said. State testing will be suspended statewide most likely. Reykdal said there is no meaningful way to test students while classes are out.
“We haven’t seen this in the state of Washington or the United States in over 100 years,” Reykdal said. “There are nervous and worried families, and we are working really hard in partnership to find answers to those questions and to maximize support for families. We are a visible observation for the rest of the country, which is why we are taking broad steps with our schools.”
ENUMCLAW, WHITE RIVER INFORMATION
The Enumclaw and White River school districts were quick to update students and their parents of the plans for the next six weeks and beyond, from making sure seniors will meet requirements to graduate on time to ensuring students on free or reduced-price lunch across both districts will continue to have access to food.
“At this time, the last day of the school year will remain June 19, 2020,” Enumclaw Superintendent Mike Nelson wrote in an email to parents, adding that his schools will be closed March 17. “We understand that this raises questions and impacts several areas including childcare needs for our staff and families, school meals, graduation and much more. We are working on plans to address these and will be in continuous communication as we work through this.”
He added that more information will be forthcoming tomorrow, March 13.
White River Superintendent Janel Keating made the decision to make the last day of school for her students Friday, March 13, and indicated they plan to pursue online learning while school is out.
“Second, through eighth-grade students will have a Chromebook and charging cord checked out to them on Friday, which they will be bringing home,” she wrote in an email. “High school students already have devices checked out to them. If you have a high school student who does not have a device, please contact principal Cody Mothershead.”
Keating added her districts plans to continue breakfast and lunch to at-need students will be announced in the near future.