Superintendent of Public Instruction Shares Insights on School Closures

by Erin Okuno, columnist

Schools across Washington are currently closed until  April 27 to help curtail the spread of COVID-19. The order to close schools statewide came from Governor Jay Inslee on March 13. The previous day Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau made an announcement closing schools for two-weeks. Schools were given about a day’s notice about the closure. Seattle Public Schools and many other districts across the state scrambled to ramp up nutrition services and tackle childcare knowing thousands of children would now be without the safety net of schools.

Last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, shared insights, during a webinar hosted by the League of Education Voters, on what his department is working on while school is out.

Sup. Reykdal said the school year will most likely not extend past the current end date of June 19, 2020. Many teachers and other school district employees are currently being paid with school district budgets already set. The State Board of Education has a meeting on March 26 to review emergency graduation requirements, with an adoption in mid-April 2020.

Reykdal also talked about how school districts across the state are working to make sure students continue to be fed. Seattle Public Schools currently has 26 feeding stations set up across the city. Between 11:00 am -1:00 pm, Monday-Friday families can pick up grab-and-go lunches and curriculum packets.

Reykdal also said he expects learning to continue. To that effort, Seattle Public Schools is now airing educational material on channel 26 (Seattle Public Schools channel) and KOMO4. The full TV listing and to access the videos through YouTube can be found here.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has a team working on answering the question, what if school closures and social distancing stretches on for a few more weeks? Currently schools are set to return in late April, but at this point we also should be prepared for COVID-19 to force social distancing and school closures for longer.

Some parents are wondering why we haven’t shifted to online learning. Seattle Public Schools has made it clear they will not switch to this model of teaching and learning, because they cannot provide this equally to all students. Not every family or student has access to technology or internet connectivity. While Comcast and some phone providers have made their services free or lifted data lids, this is not enough to bridge the digital divide. Not every part of South Seattle is serviced by Comcast, not all internet providers are providing free internet at this time and with libraries and other places that provide free or low-cost access to the internet (e.g. restaurants or coffee shops) closed this limits even more digital accessibility.

Childcare is another pressing need for many essential workers. Supt. Reykdal talked about how the Governor’s proclamation and later stay-at-home order, lists childcare workers as essential workers. Seattle Public Schools, in partnership with childcare providers quickly worked to get childcare in place for medical workers, first responders, and other essential workers. Some of the sites are already filled and other sites are beginning to open up.

The 2019-2020 school year will be unique, as Reykdal said this will be the year with an asterisk next to it.

Erin Okuno is the executive director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), a coalition of community based organizations, schools, educators, community leaders, parents and caregivers, and concerned SE Seattle residents working to improve education for all children, especially those in SE Seattle and those farthest away from opportunities.