OLYMPIA — State school superintendent Chris Reykdal said schools may remain closed for the rest of the school year in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I don’t know if school is coming back,” Reykdal, head of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a weekly video briefing posted on OSPI’s YouTube channel. “And I want to be honest about that.”
On March 17, Gov. Jay Inslee closed schools until April 24 as a measure to “promote social distancing” and limit or prevent the person-to-person spread of the novel coronavirus. The first COVID-19 case in Washington was confirmed on Jan. 19.
As of late Sunday, the state Department of Health has reported 7,591 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington and 310 deaths.
Reykdal said it is important to health and well-being across the state to “flatten the curve” and keep the number of COVID-19 cases that require hospitalization within the state’s capacity to treat people who become seriously ill from the disease.
“If we rush back to school and put all of us in tight classrooms and get everyone back into our buildings, there’s a chance the caseloads peak back up again, and that would be the worst thing for public health,” Reykdal said.
Reykdal said that Gov. Jay Inslee, who recently extended his stay-at-home order for all non-essential employees to Monday, May 4, would make the final decision about when to reopen schools. However, he said students, teachers and families should expect to be studying from home “for quite a long time.”
“That’s the honest truth,” he added.
However, Reykdal said that this year’s high school seniors are still going to graduate. The state Board of Education has the ability to waive certain requirements, and teachers have the ability to “make independent assessments” about students, what they know and their “ability to meet standards.”
But Reykdal said he needs students to keep working.
“It does require a good faith effort,” he said. “We can’t put our pencils and pens down and say hey, we’re done. We’ve got to work through this.”