Updated March 13, 2020: As of Friday morning, several states are taking the unprecedented move of closing all K-12 public schools in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Michigan have all announced statewide closures, with Washington expected to follow shortly, according to CNN.
Previously, it has been up to cities or school districts to make this decision, which has been a difficult one for many, since concerns over the virus have to be weighed against the loss of services to students who rely on school meals and the lack of childcare alternatives for working parents. The USDA has been granting states waivers to allow them flexibility to distribute school meals to students who require such assistance, EdWeek reports.
“We have a responsibility to save lives,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said in a tweet on Thursday. “We could have waited to close schools, but based on advice from health experts, this is the time to do it.”
EdWeek’s Thursday night estimate said that 10,600 schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, affecting at least 4.9 million students, but that number is growing by the hour.
Parents have been anticipating this news for days, if not weeks: School districts across the country are closing to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. On Wednesday, Seattle Public Schools became the latest, and one of the largest, districts to announce that students, faculty, and staff need to stay home.
“Closing schools is the last thing we ever want to do, but, obviously, this is an unprecedented situation,” Seattle school superintendent Denise Juneau said in a press conference announcing the two-week closure to begin today, according to the Seattle Times. “The health and well-being of our students and staff is one of our top priorities and that’s a primary reason for the decision, but it’s also because of the potential wide reach COVID-19 can have.”
The city has been seeing a growing number of cases, leading to many disruptive factors, including schools having to deep clean every time there is a possible exposure to the virus, and teacher absences rising to 10 percent this week. Seattle Public Schools serves more than 52,000 students. Other area districts have also closed, affecting hundreds of thousands of students.
View this post on Instagram
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. 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. 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. Learn more on our website.
This follows temporary closings in other large school districts. The Elk Grove Unified School District, the largest in Northern California (serving more than 63,000 students) announced it would be closed this week after a family in the Sacramento area tested positive. The district said the closure would count as spring break instead of the planned holiday in April. In Atlanta, Fulton County Public Schools (which serve 96,000 students) closed for two days this week to allow for cleaning after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19. And in Fairfax County, VA, which serves almost 189,000 students, schools will be closed for the day on Monday, March 16, so that faculty can train to teach students via distance learning.
You can find a detailed map and list of school closures, updated twice a day, on EdWeek.org.
Meanwhile, Seattle has said it will not provide distance learning to students because too many families in the city do not have access to computers. It’s up to parents to keep their kids busy, which is going to be quite a challenge for those still working. The schools are, however, putting a plan in place to distribute meals at 50-60 locations for the students who rely on school meals, beginning on Monday.
School lunches are one reason many districts in the U.S. are waiting until absolutely necessary to close.
“Almost 30 million kids a day rely on government subsidized school meals,” Joel Berg, CEO of the nonprofit Hunger Free America, told EdWeek. “If schools are shut down for weeks at a time, we’re going to have a serious child hunger crisis.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the school lunch program, granted Washington state a waiver to provide meals in other settings through June. In the absence of other plans to feed children, some are encouraging people to start donating to local food banks.
Still, it’s becoming clear that closing places where large groups of people gather may be the only way to slow this pandemic. In the meantime, please continue to teach your kids proper hand hygiene and stay safe out there!