Federal Way School District cancels March field trips to protect students from COVID-19 exposure

The district also forbids outside groups from using any FWPS sites through March 31; Superintendent confirms there are no reported or confirmed coronavirus cases in the district as of March 5.

While Federal Way Public Schools confirmed there are no reported or confirmed coronavirus cases related to the district, school officials have decided to cancel all upcoming field trips and suspend outside groups from using any district site through March 31.

Beginning Monday (March 9), all of the planned day and overnight field trips are cancelled to “help limit staff and students’ exposure to environments outside of school district settings,” according to a letter sent to parents Friday morning.

In addition to nixing the upcoming trips, FWPS will also not allow any outside groups to use the district’s facilities, such as common areas, gyms or classrooms.

“By suspending facilities use, this helps reserve our cleaning supplies and for our custodial staff to focus more time cleaning and disinfecting our schools,” the letter stated.

These new precautionary measures span from Monday, March 9 through Tuesday, March 31.

The FWPS STEM Expo night, scheduled for March 25, is also postponed for a future date.

“We thoughtfully and carefully consider each of these decisions, and we recognize any decision will have impacts,” the email stated. “However, these additional preventative measures will help limit exposure while we continue to focus on maintaining a safe learning environment.”

Cancellations do not apply to athletic events, dances and in-house events like concerts or assemblies, the district noted.

“I know that with the significant amount of information circulating about coronavirus, it can be overwhelming and in some instances, scary,” wrote FWPS Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell in a previous email to parents on March 5. “I want to emphasize the importance of staying calm and informed in situations like these.”

With no cases related to the district or under investigation, Federal Way Public Schools has not yet closed schools. Data from this week also shows no significant drop in attendance at any of the schools, according to Kassie Swenson, the district’s chief of communications.

According to an email from FWPS Deputy Superintendent Dani Pfeiffer, student absences due to symptoms, concerns or fears of COVID-19 are to be marked as excused.

However, more than a dozen Washington schools closed earlier this week for thorough cleaning and disinfecting, or for cautionary reasoning amid the outbreak.

King County Public Health does not recommend schools to close proactively unless there is a student or staff member who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.

“We don’t know how effective children are in spreading this disease,” Public Health stated on their website March 5.

The youngest person of the 70 coronavirus cases in the state is a teen from Hazen High School.

Heightened awareness has led to the district taking precautionary measures for cleanliness, such as increasing the frequency of disinfecting countertops, doorknobs, light switches, and other high-touch surfaces with an effective cleaning agent known to kill the coronavirus, Swenson told the Mirror.

Schools are also routinely cleaned and disinfected, and as an additional precautionary measure, the district purchased hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for the buildings.

“As you can imagine, these products are in high demand,” Swenson said. “We are delivering disinfectant wipes to each school, and more are on the way.”

The district is supplying disinfectant cleaner, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer to teachers for their classrooms, Swenson noted.

FWPS officials are also participating in meetings and weekly briefings with the Washington State Department of Health and Public Health–Seattle & King County, following guidance from these agencies and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

School nurses and school leadership staff have been informed of specific action steps to take if there is a student, staff member or volunteer suspected to be at risk for COVID-19.

The district also is encouraging general prevention methods such as handwashing, covering coughs and staying home if sick.

The district recently distributed information about preventative hygiene steps to take and outlined factors of increased risk, which include if a person has traveled to China in the past 14 days or had close contact with someone with a lab-confirmed novel coronavirus infection.

Being at-risk for coronavirus does not mean a person has a coronavirus infection, the district explained via email to parents on March 1, adding it means the individual is being asked to monitor their health and stay at home for 14 days.

“People are NOT at risk because of their race, nationality, or ethnicity,” the district added. “… Please bear in mind that although novel coronavirus started in China, having Chinese ancestry – or any other ancestry – does not place a person at higher risk for this illness.”

Although Public Health is discouraging schools from closing for precautionary reasons, the FWPS district said if they were to have a confirmed case that dictates closure, it is essential to provide all students equitable access to learning.

Superintendent Campbell wrote to parents and said the district would not exercise online learning as the only option.

“For FWPS, we would not be able to provide online services to all students because many families do not have wi-fi access or access to computers,” she wrote. “Additionally, some families work multiple jobs and would not be able to support home instruction with their children.”

Swenson did not elaborate on what contingency learning plans for long-term closure would be, although she confirmed the district is actively working to create equitable learning opportunities.