All schools in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties will be closed for the next month after an announcement made by Gov. Jay Inslee. School districts in the rest of the state are being told to prepare for a statewide closure in the upcoming days.
During a press conference on Thursday afternoon, 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.”
In Federal Way, all schools in the district will be closed beginning Monday, March 16 to Friday, April 24.
Learning at home
Due to the limitations of an online-only learning model, FWPS will be mailing six-week learning packets of hardcopy lessons and activities for use at home to each student so all students have access to essential learning and practice while schools are closed, the district stated on their website. Activities in the packet can be completed without the use of technology or internet.
Teachers may also provide additional instructional learning materials to their students, and will be available to provide students and parents assistance with the learning packet via email throughout the closure. The packet will also be accessible online by Friday, March 13.
These packets are to prevent students from experiencing a gap in learning, the district wrote.
“We care deeply about your child’s academic and social emotional learning,” the release states.
FWPS will offer a packaged meal, consisting of breakfast and lunch, to students throughout the school closure.
Pick-up stations will be at Decatur High School, Federal Way High School, Thomas Jefferson High School and Todd Beamer High School and students may pick up one packaged meal between 10 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. Meals will not be provided during the week of FWPS’s spring break, April 6-10.
The district’s FRED (Fun. Read. Eat. Dream) bus will be serving meals throughout various communities. A list of locations and times can be found at FWPS.org.
The FWPS district is working with partners to determine childcare options and availability in the coming days, according to their website.
All field trips and events, including sports, are canceled during the closure, the district noted. Student-led conferences, previously scheduled for March 19 and 20, are canceled.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation, but together we can take important steps toward the health of our community,” FWPS Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell wrote in an email to parents.
Federal Way Education Association (FWEA) President Shannon McCann said in a statement that the association is working tirelessly to support students and families during this unprecedented global pandemic.
“Our thoughts go out to all families who have been dearly impacted by the COVID-19 virus,” she stated. “The images from Italy and other countries are truly harrowing and we must do everything to prevent that. The health of our students, community and state is paramount. No one wants to close schools yet we understand the critical role school closures play to slow a health crises.”
McCann added that equity and access are priorities for FWEA members.
“We have been working very closely with the district, and we are relieved students can access nutrition at our four high schools and nine additional sites,” she stated. “We know all students do not have access to a laptop and wifi access at home and educators are working hard before the closure to support learning. Given the majority of our students are renters, we are hopeful there is collaboration in our city to ensure housing stability during this time. Especially given the diversity of languages spoken in our community, we ask for our neighbors’ partnership communicating about the nutrition resources available.
“In general, FWEA members remain deeply worried at the lack of COVID-19 tests that are available in the United States. We are truly all in this together.”
During the press conference, 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% 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.”