Inslee Orders All Schools in King, Pierce, Snohomish Counties to Close Through April 24

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On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the closure of all K-12 schools, public and private, in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties for more than a month.

Under the executive order, schools can hold classes until Monday, March 16. They must close by March 17 and remain closed until April 24. The earliest possible day that schools could reopen, under the order, would be April 27.

But during a news conference, state schools chief Chris Reykdal hinted that schools may remain closed even longer and perhaps well into the fall.

“I want to make clear to folks who might have been thinking that this is like a flu…This is not the flu,” Reykdal said, adding that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus won’t arrive for some time.

“Our (school) systems need to be prepared for a potentially longer closure in the near term and (without a vaccine) we have to be prepared that this is back in the fall or still with us in the fall,” he said.

The directive came just one day after Inslee put all school districts in Washington state on notice to create contingency plans in case they are ordered to close. He said he was planning to meet with superintendents in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Across the three counties, nearly 563,600 attend public or charter schools. Roughly 216,700 of them qualify for subsidized meals, leaving many of the 43 school districts there scrambling to plan for feeding children during an extended closure.

Students with disabilities and children experiencing homelessness also are likely to bear the brunt of long periods without schools open. For many students who don’t have stable housing arrangements, school can be the one constant in their lives.

Inslee acknowledged that the mandated closures would prove a burden for many families.

“We all need to make tough decisions, and this is one of them,” he said during the news conference. “Something of this magnitude cannot be surmounted with all of us pitching in.”

The governor also noted his expectation that schools provides meals for students, child care for families who need it and support for students experiencing homelessness. Philanthropic and service groups, Inslee said, may help with services like distributing box lunches.

This effort may also include the Washington National Guard, he added.

Ahead of the governor’s announcement, questions remained about how the closures will affect teacher pay and benefits, remote instruction, child care options and food distribution. A count of total enrollment in private schools was not immediately available.

As of early Thursday, the state superintendent’s office had not issued guidance on child care.

“It will likely look different district by district,” Katy Payne, a spokesperson for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in an email. “It will be different than normal school hours because districts will not be providing instruction, and it will only be a small subset of students.”

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She added that the superintendent’s office expects districts to continue paying all staff, but it remains unclear what will happen for hourly workers. “It’s our preference they are paid, but we are still sorting it out,” Payne said.

By Wednesday, four large districts in King County — Seattle, Bellevue, Northshore and Lake Washington — had already announced they would close this week and tentatively resume classes later in March.

Under state law, public school districts must offer a minimum average of 1,080 instructional hours to high school students and 1,000 hours to all other grades. The state education department will waive days that school districts can’t make up past June 19.

In Franklin Pierce School District, nutritional services director Karen Brown quickly realized her plan to offer families a drive-up food service on days when school is closed would not work: more than 60% of students take the bus and can’t travel to school on their own.

Her new plan: deliver food straight to Franklin Pierce students.

“We will make the food and then put it on the buses,” she said, adding that students will get bagged breakfast and lunch each day. “We will take it to our highest populated areas, like apartment complexes or neighborhoods where a lot of our kids live.”

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