Green Mountain School District Superintendent Tyson Vogeler knew early Friday that the news of school closures was coming. He and other district superintendents had met earlier in the day and collectively decided the time had come to send students home due to the spread of COVID-19.
But that didn’t make it any easier to pull the rural school district’s 150 students into an assembly and tell them, following orders from Gov. Jay Inslee, that the district’s only school would close until April 27.
“We had a lot of tears this afternoon,” Vogeler said. “School is a stabilizing factor in the lives of so many kids.”
In an unprecedented move, Inslee and state Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced the closure of public and private schools statewide for six weeks starting early next week. Clark County schools are closed effective Monday, a decision that affects nearly 85,000 public and private school students.
Inslee also ordered restrictions on activities at colleges, canceling in-person classes through April 24. Hands-on lab classes can continue if students follow social distancing rules.
The announcement came a day after Inslee announced the closure of schools in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
“We have concluded a county-by-county approach to this epidemic is not sufficient,” Inslee said. “We need to get ahead of this wave, and we need to do it today.”
Districts will be able to schedule make-up school days through June 19, but the state will waive requirements that students stay in school beyond that. Graduation dates will not be affected.
“I think the main thing to remember is this is an important step to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect the lives of our loved ones who are at greater risk of contracting the virus,” Battle Ground Public Schools spokeswoman Rita Sanders said.
The decision raises significant questions about how Clark County’s most vulnerable families will receive services like food and child care in the coming weeks. Districts and other educational organizations are at varying levels of preparedness to serve those families.
About 41.3 percent of Clark County’s 80,410 public school students receive free- and reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty. Some districts headed into the weekend with a plan in place to feed students starting Monday or Tuesday.
“We will be feeding students, and we are committed to feeding all of our students who need it,” Evergreen Public Schools spokeswoman Gail Spolar said. The district was finalizing its meal plan as of Friday afternoon and will begin serving students Tuesday.
Others, like Green Mountain, were still weighing their options for providing students with meals. Vogeler noted that his district doesn’t have adequate cafeteria space to prepare meals for students; the district usually contracts with Battle Ground.
“We will have some families who will struggle without school nutrition programs,” he said.
Students who receive special education services will also miss out on therapeutic supports. According to the United States Department of Education, school districts are not required to provide services to students with disabilities if the rest of the school is closed. About 17.3 percent of Clark County public school students receive special education services, either under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or Section 504.
Child care impacts
Inslee’s announcement did not apply to day care and preschool facilities, and the Department of Children, Youth and Families urged schools to keep their existing child care facilities open. In a news release, the department noted programs like the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program and Head Start serve some of the “poorest and most vulnerable children” in the state.
But Clark County’s youngest learners will nevertheless feel the impact of the closures.
Educational Service District 112 announced that its child care centers, including its ECEAP programs, would stay open. Educational Opportunities for Children and Families, on the other hand, announced the closure of all of its Head Start and ECEAP centers; the organization is the only Head Start operator in Clark County.
“We want to make sure we’re supporting our districts and our families,” ESD 112 spokeswoman Monique Dugaw said. “We understand this is a challenging and unprecedented time for everybody.”
The Ridgefield School District will offer day care for families with children in kindergarten through fourth grade if parents work in medical fields, as first responders or are unable to find alternative care. More details are still to come.
Clark College formally announced that it would be moving all of its programs to remote operations until the restrictions are lifted on April 24. Clark heads into finals week on Monday, and all in-person finals must be complete by the end of that day. Teachers have opted to hold their final exams online.
Career and technical classes that require hands-on learning may meet in person, but students will be required to practice social distancing, sitting 6 feet apart.
“We are grateful that students in our professional technical programs — like automotive technology and welding — are still allowed to come to campus for short periods of time to access labs and equipment needed for their studies,” Interim President Sandra Fowler-Hill said in a college news release.
Essential services, like security, student affairs, computer labs and the bookstore, will continue to operate.
All athletics and college activities will be canceled through April 24, and spring events through April 30 have also been canceled.
Clark College is expected to release contingency plans for spring quarter, which begins April 6.
Washington State University announced class closures on Wednesday, moving all classes systemwide online effective March 23. WSU is on spring break next week.
Local districts will not offer online lessons to students. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction advised this month that districts only do so if they could ensure all students had access to lessons online, but not all families have computers or internet access.
The Northshore School District, a relatively affluent district in Bothell, made the move to online education Monday.
Vancouver Public Schools issued the following statement Friday:
Vancouver Public Schools is closing all its schools Monday, March 16, through Friday, April 24. Gov. Jay Inslee has directed all Washington state public schools to close to help our state and nation combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
We take any decision to close schools very seriously, recognizing that closures can pose difficulties for families and disrupt children’s education.
Please review the following important information:
- Effective at the end of school today and throughout the closure, ALL athletics and morning/afternoon/evening and weekend school activities will be canceled.
- VPS will provide meals to all students affected by emergency school closures beginning Monday, March 16. Sack lunches will be distributed to students between 10 a.m. and noon at the front of the following schools:
- Anderson Elementary, 2215 NE 104th St.
- Fruit Valley Elementary, 3410 NW Fruit Valley Rd.
- Ogden Elementary School, 3200 NE 86th Ave.
- Roosevelt Elementary, 2921 Falk Rd.
- Washington Elementary School, 2908 S St.
- Discovery Middle School, 800 E. 40th St.
- Jason Lee Middle School, 8500 NW 9th Ave.
- McLoughlin Middle School, 5802 MacArthur Blvd.
- Educational Service District 112 childcare centers will continue to operate in VPS.
- Missed school days will be made up at the end of the school year. The make-up days will be: June 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. The state will issue waivers for the balance of the missed days. Graduation dates will not be impacted.
- We know that students, families and staff will have questions. We will continue to provide updates via several methods: