Schools will remain closed and students will continue distance learning through the rest of the school year.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday afternoon announced the extension of what initially was a six-week closure through April 24 to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The closure includes all public and private K-12 schools.
“We can’t risk losing the gains made after the peak of the pandemic presumably has passed,” Inslee said of reopening the schools. “This will allow educators to put their full energy and talent on the best way to provide for students in these circumstances.”
The extension is needed to prevent further disruption to student education, he said. Reopening school buildings too soon likely would result in having to close them again for weeks at a time if a student or teacher is diagnosed with COVID-19. Instead, the focus will shift to figuring out how to improve distance learning. That includes working with internet providers and software leaders to connect teachers and students, Inslee said.
Inslee said some students — those with disabilities and for whom English is a second language — might be able to use school facilities on a limited basis as the year progresses. The use would be limited, similar to how schools are currently being used to provide meals and childcare for essential workers.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said the question of whether school will return in the fall can’t yet be answered.
“We are trying to contemplate the face-to-face model for the fall, but we also have to be significantly better at the distance model,” he said. “We are challenging our private-sector partners to get connectivity to all students. This is an opportunity to transform education. The disease is compelling us to make the change. Our task is to rise to it.”
For students and parents worried about grades and graduation, Inslee said don’t panic.
“Districts are working to ensure seniors have the opportunity to get the credits they need to graduate. For other students, grades will not suffer because of this. Educators will continue teaching.”
Students also need to do their part and work hard at it, he said.
Reykdal said the education model will look different than it has in the past.
“It will be more flexible and it will evolve as we learn more and gain experience in the tools available to us,” he said.
The extension of the school closure didn’t come entirely as a surprise, said North Central Educational Service District Superintendent Michelle Price, though superintendents were hearing the announcement Monday the same time as the public.
“Superintendent Reykdal has been pointed in making sure every district has a plan for delivering continuous learning during the closure, anticipating that there could be an extension,” she said. The announcement creates mixed emotions for educators, she said.