Seattle Public Schools closing for at least two weeks; district has said it won’t offer online learning

Seattle Public Schools will close for at least two weeks starting Thursday, the latest in a series of dramatic measures intended to help stem the tide of the novel coronavirus in the Seattle region.

“Together, we are facing an unprecedented health crisis in our community. In our response to COVID-19, we must depend on the wisdom of our health experts and elected officials and lean on the resolve of our strong community,” the school district said in a message to families.

The message said “it is now time for the district to act swiftly,” citing Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision Wednesday to ban public gatherings of more than 250 people through at least the end of March.

The message does not address the issue of online learning, but the district, with more than 53,000 students, has said that it does not plan to offer online learning options during a closure, citing guidance from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), designed to ensure that all students have equal access to educational options.

“OSPI does not recommend an online distance learning model unless a district can ensure that all students will have equal access to learning,” the district’s COVID-19 update page says. “Seattle Public Schools is the largest district in our state with a diverse student population and many of our students do not have regular access to technology or the internet.”

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The 23,000-student Northshore School District, north of Seattle, is already closed due to the outbreak and is offering online learning to its students.

Combined with work-from-home policies instituted at many companies in the region, including tech giants Microsoft and Amazon, the school closure adds to what is starting to look like a  shutdown of the city, leaving normally busy streets empty at peak hours of the day.

Here’s the full text of the message from Seattle Public Schools.

Dear Families:

Together, we are facing an unprecedented health crisis in our community. In our response to COVID-19, we must depend on the wisdom of our health experts and elected officials and lean on the resolve of our strong community.

We have been following the guidance of Public Health Seattle & 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. Starting tomorrow, Thursday March 12, Superintendent Denise Juneau and the Seattle School Board will close Seattle Public Schools for a minimum of 14 calendar days as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently guides. This necessary action is an effective way to disrupt widespread infection.

Beginning Thursday, March 12, all school building activities including school day instruction, childcare, health services, enrichment, etc. are canceled until further notice. Today, 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.

The decision to close the district was extremely difficult. We know that closing our schools will impact our most vulnerable families and we recognize that working families depend on the consistency and predictability of supports and services our schools offer. We are working with partners and the city to determine how to best mitigate the impact closing schools will have on working families.

We also recognize there are still a lot of unknowns about this disease and just how prevalent it is in our community. Yesterday, we had our first staff member confirmed with COVID-19. As testing becomes more readily available, these cases will increase. While children appear to be more protected from extreme symptoms, adults, including our educators and employees, need support and protection as well.

As we have shared many times, our goal has been to keep our doors open as long as possible in order to support our students and the entire community. Our incredible school staff, school leaders, and central support staff have been unwavering in this commitment. We appreciate their service to our community, children, and families.

It is in times like these that our community values become visible. Please take care of each other. Reach out to neighbors and lend a hand to those in need. We will get through this.

The superintendent will continue to stay in conversation with the city, state, and local officials, and partners as our entire region responds to new guidance and a call to take an active role combating COVID-19.

More information will be communicated tomorrow, March 12, to all families. Please check the Coronavirus 2019 Update webpage for the most up to date information.

Office of Public Affairs

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