In an email sent out to all Edmonds School District staff members on Wednesday night, Superintendent Dr. Kris McDuffy announced that all schools will be closed beginning Monday, March 16 through at least Friday, April 10. This announcement comes following growing concerns over the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Information about remote learning options will be announced to students and staff members on Thursday, and teachers will receive further training during the pre-planned Professional Development Day on Friday.
The decision to close schools beginning Monday came after McDuffy received advice from local and state health officials, Snohomish County executives and a conference call that took place this afternoon with Governor Jay Inslee. Inslee will speak on Thursday with further information, which could extend the timeline of closing schools even further.
“The time has come for me to make the difficult decision to close our schools to support the county and statewide efforts to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” McDuffy said in the email sent to District staff.
The decision was ultimately made by McDuffy to fulfill the District’s obligation in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the local community.
“The reason why we must take such drastic measures is to do our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and practice social distancing,” McDuffy said. “These are unprecedented times and we want to make sure we as a school community are helping to keep our students, staff and families safe and healthy.”
Thursday will be the final day of school for students until the District determines that the situation is safe to allow students to return to schools. Schools will be open tomorrow to give students, family and staff members a chance to prepare for several weeks in which all schools will be closed. All scheduled after school activities will also be allowed to proceed as planned.
“This will allow students to take home essential personal items they need to have with them while schools are closed,” McDuffy said. “This will also allow teachers to make sure students take home educational resource tools, such as computers and textbooks.”
The District will continue to follow the attendance policy that has been in place for the past few weeks, allowing families concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak to excuse their students from classes at any time due to health concerns.
McDuffy acknowledged the difficulties that many families, especially those that rely on support offered by District programs, will face due to the prospect of a weeks-long closure.
“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,” McDuffy said.
The situation may become worse for families as daycares in the area, who often look to local school districts to make decisions about closures, may follow the ESD’s lead in closing facilities. However, McDuffy pledged that the District would do everything in its power to support working families that depend on schools for childcare during the day.
Principal Greg Schellenberg was also notified of the decision to close schools on Wednesday night and is currently working to assist in transitioning the Terrace community to a remote learning system over the next several weeks.
“Distance learning is not as straightforward as having teachers just send out assignments to students, as there are a variety of state regulations that must be met by an online instruction system,” Schellenberg said.
The District will work with teachers over the following days to create an acceptable method of teaching students remotely. Until a plan is decided upon, the days off will be treated similarly to snow days.
“The plan for Monday is that, unless we hear otherwise, that it will be treated like a snow day and students will not be assigned extra work,” Schellenberg said. “At some point, the District will flip to a distance learning program.
Schellenberg also wishes to assure the community that school and District administrators will do as much as possible to continue to fulfill teacher contracts and provide support to students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses. Students in these courses are scheduled to take their exams in early May, which will determine if those students can receive college credits.
Future events, including graduation, may be adjusted as the situation continues to evolve. However, no plans have yet been announced to change these events or further prolong the prohibition of sporting competitions, concerts, dances, plays, information nights and field trips beyond Sunday, April 12.
The District is also planning for a contingency scenario in which schools must remain closed after April 10. However, Schellenberg is confident that the ESD will continue to work with the community to get through this crisis safely.
“This is new ground and it is very tough for our students, particularly our seniors,” Schellenberg said. “We want everyone to follow established health guidelines, and the District will continue to communicate its plans with families and students as more information becomes available.”
Teams at the District’s administrative level have been meeting for several days to discuss plans for continued food services, childcare and educational support in the event of a long-term school cancellation. The District will announce their plans for these priority areas to the community in the coming days. Information will be shared through email and will also be posted on the District’s website and social media pages.
The news of the closure of District schools comes after the Lake Washington School District, Northshore School District, Shoreline School District and Seattle Public Schools announced closures for the next several weeks. These school districts combined serve tens of thousands of students at all grade levels throughout the Seattle area. It also follows Governor Inslee’s announcement that all gatherings of over 250 people will be prohibited in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.