Saying Washingtonians "cannot risk losing the gains that we have made," Governor Jay Inslee today announced the closure of the state's K-12 schools through the end of the academic year in June in order to extend pandemic suppression efforts.
Although all schools in this state will be prohibited from holding "traditional, in-person instruction," Inslee said distance learning efforts will continue. In addition, high school seniors will still graduate, ESL and special needs students will still be able to attend classes at some public school facilities (provided social distancing mandates can be followed), and attempts will be made to even out a digital divide that makes distance learning much easier for well-off and urban students than for poor and rural students.
“These are difficult times and this is a tough day for us in Washington state," said Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, who joined Inslee for the announcement.
Reykdal added that Washington is now one of 14 states that have closed school buildings for the rest of the year. He expects “dozens” more states to follow suit and counts some 50 million students presently finishing out the school year in non-traditional ways across the country.
Reykdal also used his time at the podium to call for US internet service to be treated (and, presumably, regulated) as if it were a public utility.
That, he said, would go a long way toward ensuring even access to opportunities like distance-learning during moments of national crisis like this one.
"We will never replace face to face learning," Reykdal said. "But right now, this is our moment to connect every family, and [make] it as much of a right to be connected as clean water.”
Pointing to an earlier superintendent who led Washington state schools through a previous pandemic, emerging afterward with new innovations like Kindergarten and middle school, Reykdal said: "From the seeds of crisis come the strong, strong roots and blossom of innovation.”
But for now, he acknowledged, the school closure "does call into question" what will happen in the fall.
Neither he nor Inslee could yet provide an answer.
“Do your best,” the governor said to educators and school administrators.
At the same time, he admitted that Washington state schools, for the next few months, are "not going to be the best they’ve ever been." Inslee's hope, however, is that they'll be the most "creative" and "dedicated" they've ever been.
The reason this state's schools need to close—even as Washington is being congratulated locally and nationally for decreasing coronavirus infections through strict social distancing rules, and even as experts talk of a "peak" in infections being reached in various US locations over the coming weeks—is that on the other side of any peak, there are still a lot of potential infections.
“We cannot risk losing the gains that we have made after the peak of this pandemic presumably will have passed,” Inslee said.