Local school districts are working on ways to provide lunches, childcare, education resources and keep their staff working as schools are closed for at least six weeks.
Last week, in response to the new coronavirus, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee directed all schools in the state to be closed until April 24.
“We cannot hide from the central truth of this moment,” said Inslee during a March 12 press conference. “Anything less than strong action at this moment is not appropriate."
He said that the decision was not made lightly.
“This school closure is going to be tough on families. They’re going to be there tonight trying to figure out childcare,” he said.
The purpose of school closures is to slow the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus.
If the infection gets around too quickly, it is expected that the state's medical services would be quickly overwhelmed, leading to deaths that would not have happened if communities work to slow the coronavirus' spread.
“The infection rate for young people is very low, but it is important we keep those students' parents and grandparents in our minds,” said Chris Reykdal, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Reykdal emphasized that although the coronavirus is similar to the flu, it is new and therefore we do not have any resistances to it.
“Without vaccines, we have to be prepared that this will be back with us in the fall,” he said.
Inslee has asked school districts to prepare childcare and meal services while school is out, although he recognized they will need time to implement them.
“I’ve asked superintendents to have a plan for continuity of these services,” he said.
School officials said that an epidemic of this nature hasn't been seen by most people.
“We haven’t seen this in the state of Washington for a hundred years,” said Reykdal.
Lakewood School District Superintendent Scott Peacock agreed that this is "new and uncharted territory."
“We’ve seen disease outbreaks before, but never something to this level that required this kind of response,” he said.
The situation escalated rapidly and many school districts are now preparing programs from the ground up with little notice.
“These are really unprecedented times, so we’re really working through these new challenges,” said Jodi Runyon, director of outreach and engagement at the Marysville School District.
“We’re going to need some time to figure that out,” she said.
Reykdal said that the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has the power to waive school day requirements, so not all missed days will have to be made up, but he expected school to be held well into June.
Marysville School District
Marysville will serve free breakfast and lunch daily at all school sites for youth age 1 to 18 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
A plan for childcare is coming soon for the district.
“We are working on a plan on how best to serve the students,” said Runyon.
She said that during the time of the coronavirus crisis the district hopes to support the community.
“We’re working with our community partners to make sure that we can serve the citizens here and meet Gov. Inslee’s directives,” she said.
The district is working on a childcare program currently.
For online school, district officials said they do not want to further inequities of those who do not have internet access, but are currently exploring all options and ways to mitigate those concerns.
Arlington School District
Arlington School District will provide free meals available to all students and can be picked up at Presidents Elementary or Arlington High School.
"We're also encouraging folks to go to the Arlington Community Food Bank," said Gary Sabol, director of communications for the Arlington School District.
The food bank is expanding their Meals 'Til Monday program for school children typically meant for just the weekends.
The district's childcare program is being worked on and Sabol expects to have more information early the week of March 16.
"The district is prioritizing childcare for students of first responders and healthcare workers as the governor requested," he said.
District officials are developing "educational resources" for students during the time off, although exactly what that looks like is still to be determined, said Sabol.
The school district will try to keep their employees working throughout the school closure, said Sabol.
"Although the work might look a lot different than what they normally do," he said.
Sabol encourages parents and students to send him questions at email@example.com.
"We're developing a FAQ to make sure we are responding to all the family's concerns," he said.
Lakewood School District
Lakewood hopes to have meal and childcare programs set up soon and the discussions around those are currently going on.
“We are exploring how we might provide childcare for our students and the families of first responders,” said Peacock.
Peacock was skeptical that online school would be provided.
“We don’t have the resources to provide comprehensive online learning and there are equity issues involved in that as well,” he said, because not all students have the same level of access to computers and the internet.
“We’re not planning for distance learning per se, but we are looking at how to best provide support for kids during our leave,” he said.
The district is currently looking at how best to provide their staff continued work during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We intend to provide meaningful work for our employees,” said Peacock.