Updated: Vashon Island School District to close for six weeks

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the closure of all schools to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The Vashon Island School District will close beginning Friday, March 13, for six weeks, according to a message sent to families Wednesday evening by superintendent Slade McSheehy. The last day for students will be Thursday, March 12. The closure is planned to last until Friday, April 24.

McSheehy wrote that the decision was made following an earlier video conference with administrators from King County and Pierce County, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Gov. Jay Inslee, who banned all large public gatherings of more than 250 people earlier this morning during a press conference.

“It was clear from both of these conferences that we will see massive school closure announcements in Snohomish, King, and Pierce Counties within the next few days,” McSheehy wrote.

The announcement follows an earlier decision to cancel or postpone all events scheduled outside of school hours, such as athletics, band events and SAT testing. McSheehy wrote that there are efforts in place to provide programs and services to students and families during the closure, such as “Grab ‘n’ Go” lunches that will be available to any student in the district by Monday. The district will also be able to provide limited childcare by Wednesday, according to the email, with more communication and details expected in the coming days.

District staff is working to prepare optional, ungraded supplemental learning activities for students in place of face to face classroom instruction, according to McSheehy, adding that laptops will be provided to students who require them. In a brief phone interview, he said that teachers and principals are working together to plan and design those lessons and that they will be “designed as we go” for all subjects in all grade levels.

“I’m not overstating that these things are changing minute by minute,” he said about the closure. “However, I think that this decision now gives us some space and time for some more thoughtful planning and preparation for how we’re going to provide services and programs during this extended closure.”

LINK services are not expected to be interrupted but will not be able to accommodate any new students, McSheehy wrote in his message. There are no reports of confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the school district.

The school board will meet as planned tomorrow at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at Chautauqua Elementary School to discuss coronavirus impacts and planning.


March 13:

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee mandated the closure of close all K through 12 public and private schools in every district across the state of Washington.

“It is unfortunate but it is true that this virus is going to spread to other counties and it is spreading very rapidly. We have concluded that a county-by-county approach to this epidemic is not sufficient; we need to get ahead of this wave and we need to do it today,” he said.

Inslee added that as with yesterday’s school closures in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, critical services provided by districts such as meals and childcare must be addressed throughout Washington, adding that school employees will be working throughout the coming weeks.

March 12:

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Inslee, joined by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Krestin Bahr, president of the Washington Association of School Administrators, ordered the closures of schools in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, including public and private K through 12 schools. Under the order, schools must close and end classes by the end of this coming Monday. The first possible weekday back will be April 27.

Inslee said the decision was not made lightly and involved discussion with Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiseman, the state public health authority, Reykdal, superintendents from multiple school districts that will be affected, parents, county executives, and the Washington Education Association.

“We have reached a tipping point, and the spread of this virus demands that we take action. We’re seeing the number of confirmed cases within the Puget Sound area increase significantly, just in the last week, and we do not expect this to slow down, and [it] will not slow down unless we take action to defeat this virus today,” Inslee said. He added that health professionals say the virus presents milder symptoms in children and that closing schools could create a significant cut in the peak number of ultimate infections in school districts that will help slow the transmission of the virus.

Inslee added that school districts within the region are experiencing “unparalleled” student absences and are struggling to maintain their operations with fewer staff members, who have been encouraged in recent days to stay home if they are at risk. He also noted that superintendents affected by the closure have been asked to provide opportunities for extended learning, acknowledging that districts vary widely in their capabilities to provide education outside of the classroom.

Inslee said he has asked that superintendents have a plan for the continuity of essential services such as nutrition and childcare — crucial for health professionals and first responders — and that officials are involving philanthropic and service organizations to help impacted students.

“We absolutely cannot afford a situation of healthcare providers not working in hospitals because they do not have adequate child care,” he said, reiterating that the order only currently applies to Snohomish, King and Pierce counties but that others should take note.

“It’s very important for all school districts across the state of Washington to have very active and robust and meaningful plans for contingencies that may include them in future closures and those could come in the near-term,” he said. “We are aware that other counties may end up becoming part of this effort and we may be making similar decisions shortly.”

This is a developing story. We will give updates on changes and further closures as we learn more. Please email editor@vashonbeachcomber.com or prowley@vashonbeachcomber.com with questions or news tips.