After weeks of growing concern about the spread of COVID-19, Seattle Public Schools announced Wednesday it is closing its campuses for at least two weeks beginning Thursday.
“We have been following the guidance of Public Health Seattle and King County and implementing preventive and responsive strategies, but in light of Governor Inslee’s request that all citizens practice measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, it is now time for the district to act swiftly,” a March 11th letter to families reads.
“Beginning Thursday all school building activities including school day instruction, childcare, health services, enrichment, etc. are canceled until further notice,” the announcement from the district representing some 54,000 students said.
The move follows Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement of a ban across King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties on gatherings involving more than 250 people including sporting events, concerts, church services, and more.
UPDATE 3/12/20: Governor Inslee is calling for the closure of all private and public kindergarten through 12th grade schools in King, Pierce, Snohomish Counties through — sorry parents — April 24th.
The World Health Organization announced Wednesday COVID-19 has reached levels making it an official pandemic.
The latest numbers from Public Health released Tuesday afternoon show what officials have been warning about: the first signs of a sharp increase in identified cases now that testing efforts have been stepped up around the region. The county reported 74 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total here to 190. With two new fatal cases, the death toll now stands at 22 for King County. Most of the deaths are people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s or with underlying health conditions. Meanwhile, the growing number of cases threatens to overwhelm the region’s hospitals and health care providers.
Earlier this week, Capitol Hill’s Seattle Central became the latest college and university campus to announce it is canceling classes and moving instruction online this month, joining the University of Washington, Seattle University, and many others.
Seattle Public Schools and many of the city’s private elementary, middle, and high schools have remained open as officials have so far opted not to recommend education officials close campuses. Seattle Public Schools has already canceled trips and large events.
But the unprecedented shut down comes after weeks of questions about how the district would respond to concerns about the virus’s spread. County health officials were not recommending that schools proactively close unless they had “a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a staff member or student.”
+Children are not known to get seriously ill from COVID-19
+Closing schools may not be effective because some children may congregate anyway, at other locations
+Many parents, such as healthcare workers, need to be at work. If these critical workers stay home with children it causes significant +impacts on the healthcare system and other institutions that are essential for our community to function
+If schools close, some children might have to stay home with alternative caregivers, such as elders, who are more vulnerable
+We don’t know how effective children are in spreading this disease
Another major challenge for districts going online is equity. “Some districts and schools may be in a position to maintain educational continuity using distance learning methods, and you may choose to implement these options,” Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Washington, wrote in a memo on coronavirus guidance. “It is important to note that if educational services are being delivered to students in any form, for the district to remain open, those services must be provided to all students, including students who don’t have access to technology at home and the continuance of a free and appropriate education to students with disabilities in accordance with their Individualized Education Programs (IEP).”
Seattle Public Schools has not yet said how it plans to address these issues. More information is being promised to families in an update on the situation planned for Thursday, the first day of what could be a long disruption. One possible option is to follow the lead being discussed in other major West Coast district — moving up Spring Break to help buy time to make up for lost instruction.
The full SPS letter to families is below:
March 11 Letter to Families
Together, we are facing an unprecedented health crisis in our community. In our response to COVID-19, we must depend on the wisdom of our health experts and elected officials and lean on the resolve of our strong community.
We have been following the guidance of Public Health Seattle and King County and implementing preventive and responsive strategies, but in light of Governor Inslee’s request that all citizens practice measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, it is now time for the district to act swiftly.
Starting Thursday, March 12, Superintendent Denise Juneau and the Seattle School Board will close Seattle Public Schools for a minimum of 14 days as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently guides. This necessary action is an effective way to disrupt widespread infection.
Beginning Thursday, March 12, all school building activities including school day instruction, childcare, health services, enrichment, etc. are canceled until further notice. Wednesday, March 11, childcare and extended day supports will continue as planned. We have an emergency food plan which will be put into place on Monday, March 16. More information will be provided by Friday, March 13.
The decision to close the district was extremely difficult. We know that closing our schools will impact our most vulnerable families and we recognize that working families depend on the consistency and predictability of supports and services our schools offer. We are working with partners and the city to determine how to best mitigate the impact closing schools will have on working families.
We also recognize there are still a lot of unknowns about this disease and just how prevalent it is in our community. Yesterday, we had our first staff member confirmed with COVID-19. As testing becomes more readily available, these cases will increase. While children appear to be more protected from extreme symptoms, adults, including our educators and employees, need support and protection as well.
As we have shared many times, our goal has been to keep our doors open as long as possible in order to support our students and the entire community. Our incredible school staff, school leaders, and central support staff have been unwavering in this commitment. We appreciate their service to our community, children, and families.
It is in times like these that our community values become visible. Please take care of each other. Reach out to neighbors and lend a hand to those in need. We will get through this, but it will take all of us thinking creatively and continuing to support our community’s children.
The superintendent will continue to stay in conversation with the city, state, and local officials, and partners as our entire region responds to new guidance and a call to take an active role combating COVID-19.
More information will be communicated Thursday, March 12, to all families. Please check the Coronavirus 2019 Update webpage for new information.
Office of Public Affairs
CHS COVID-19 Coverage
- 3/10/20: In what might become a familiar scene, Capitol Hill office building gets ‘disinfecting service’ as person becomes ill amid COVID-19 concerns
- 3/9/20: COVID-19 updates: Seattle Central joins campus closure list, Amazon and Microsoft back $2M ‘COVID-19 Response Fund,’ home testing kits coming
- 3/7/20: COVID-19 updates: New senior facility cases, cancellations grow, strange days in Seattle include new ‘6-foot’ options for delivery apps
- 3/6/20: Despite COVID-19 shadow, Capitol Hill Farmers Market going on as scheduled for shoppers — and vendors
- 3/5/20: COVID-19 updates: King County Novel Coronavirus Call Center, increased testing, and why Seattle Schools isn’t canceling
- 3/5/20: ‘EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS’ — Capitol Hill’s restaurant and nightlife economy grapples with COVID-19 worries
- 3/3/20: COVID-19 updates: Seattle ‘Civil Emergency,’ city council briefing, ‘real-time outbreak response for the Seattle epidemic’ job listings
- 3/2/20: COVID-19 updates: Weekend grocery run, county’s emergency response, patient isolation motel
- 2/29/20: With first ‘presumptive positive’ COVID-19 case in King County, here’s what officials are saying about spread and preparation — UPDATE: First U.S. death here
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