by Carolyn Bick
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee announced at an April 6 press conference with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal that he is extending school closures through the end of this school year in June, as the number of cases of novel coronavirus in the state begins to peak.
The decision affects 1.2 million students throughout the state, a number that includes private and public schools.
Inslee said that school districts and their respective superintendents will be in charge of coordinating distance learning, but also recognized that not all students will have easy Internet or technology access to take part, particularly those in inner urban and rural areas. To help remedy this, the state is working with software and Internet providers, and schools and libraries are helping to set up interconnected hot spots for students to use, he said.
“Some of these children have profound limitations and circumstances,” Inslee said, and encouraged school districts to be “creative” in their distance learning programs. He also said the state might consider summer school for some students.
Reykdal said the state is collecting data about Internet connectivity throughout the state. He said the data is showing that there is a “high penetration rate” of connectivity, but because the quality is so variable, the state is working with Internet and technology providers to mitigate and fix these issues.
Inslee said that special exceptions will be made for students with learning disabilities and students who are learning English. However, classes for those students will be “limited” to buildings that can follow current social distancing guidelines, Inslee said.
Reykdal also said that the state is looking at “pockets of excellence” in the state’s distance learning programs for students with learning disabilities. Scaling those programs over the next month will be one of the state’s main focuses, he said.
Inslee assured students that their grades won’t suffer, and that seniors in good standing will be able to graduate on time, but only if students take distance learning as seriously as they would in-person classroom learning. He did not commit to allowing seniors back into schools towards the end of the year, and said that decision will be guided by the success of social distancing restrictions and hygiene guidelines currently in place.
Reykdal said that this current crisis also calls into question whether or not schools will be open in the fall. The decision to open in the fall will also be rest on the success of current guidelines meant to combat the virus.
As of early evening on April 5, there have been 7,984 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, and 338 deaths. Inslee said officials believe the state may be seeing success in curbing the illness, but that Washingtonians should continue to practice prescribed social distancing and stringent hygiene. They should not leave home, unless absolutely necessary.
Washingtonians are also strongly urged to wear cloth masks, whenever they go out, according to new CDC recommendations. Cloth masks may not be N95-rated, but they are better than going bare, Inslee said.
Read more about school closures here.
Carolyn Bick is a South Seattle-based journalist and photographer. Contact them here.