Inslee announced a six-week closure for three Washington school districts. More closures are expected to follow.
Inslee announced a six-week school closure for three Washington counties. More closures are expected to follow. LESTER BLACK

So much for the two-week closure Seattle Public Schools announced earlier this week. Gov. Jay Inslee in a press conference on Thursday ordered all schools, both public and private, in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties to close through April 24.

The closures are a means to mitigate spread of infection and are a response to an increase in student and staff absences in districts across these three counties. There has been an 82 percent increase in absences in King County alone in the last few weeks, Inslee cited.

Schools must close by March 17 and instruction will continue on Monday, April 27. That's a six-week closure. This move is categorized in the second-highest escalation response for a public health crisis in the state. There are five levels. Canceling schools is a Level 4 response.

While children are not impacted by the COVID-19, they have the potential to be carriers and closing schools has been proven to limit the spread of the flu as we saw in the 2019 snowstorms. Additionally, according to Chris Reykdal the superintendent of public instruction in Washington, 64% of certificated staff in schools statewide are over the age of 60 and therefore in the population most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The April re-start date for schools could be changed. Reykdal made clear that districts should "make sure they’re prepared for a longer closure."

Problems that arise from these closures are numerous. Payroll to salaried staff will continue. Services like meals for students will continue at school facilities. Inslee has ordered that schools provide free childcare for healthcare professionals and first respondents so as not to bring those people out of their jobs that are crucial for responding to the COVID-19 public health crisis. "This is going to be really hard on families," Inslee said.

Additionally, school districts will need to take extra care to make sure that seniors finish the credits necessary to graduate.

Statewide testing may be a bust for this year. The state is also working with the SAT and ACT to make sure high school juniors are able to take their college placement exams. Either way, the spring of 2020 will "be seen as an asterisk" on student records, Reykdal hopes.

"We haven’t seen in this state of Washington in the United State for 100 years," Reykdal said. "These are not moments that everyone is prepared for."

Inslee also said that other districts statewide should be prepared for closures. Maybe within the next few days.

"We are a visible observation for the rest of the country," Reykdal said, "and that’s why we’re taking a visible step to close schools."