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Inslee extends statewide school closure order through end of year to tame COVID-19

Gov. Jay Inslee (KOMO News file photo)
Gov. Jay Inslee (KOMO News file photo)
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OLYMPIA, Wash. - The statewide closure of all public and private schools that began last month will be extended through the remainder of the academic year to help stem the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal announced Monday.

The extension of the closure was made public at a special afternoon press conference.

The governor and schools chief broke the news to all school district superintendents statewide in a special conference call earlier Monday.

"This decision, like every decision we've made during this crisis is very difficult," Inslee said during the press conference. "This unprecedented health emergency demands that we take this step. We are encouraging educators to do your best at this time."

The statewide school closure began March 17 and originally was set to expire on April 24. But under the extended order, all public and private K-12 schools in Washington state will be prohibited from providing traditional, in-person instruction through the end of the school year on June 19. Instruction can still happen via distance learning.

The order affects 1.2 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade in public, private and charter schools across Washington state. The order asks schools to start planning for a potential expansion of the order into the summer and fall, as a precaution.

Washington is now following the move of 13 other states in the U.S. to shut down in-person learning for the rest of the school year.

The extension of the closure was not unexpected. Reykdal said Friday in a question-and-answer session that it would be "really tough" to restart traditional classroom prematurely "because we want to make sure people are safe."

"And if we rush back to school and put all of us back in tight classrooms and bring everyone back into our buildings, there's a chance that our caseload peaks back up again and that would absolutely be the worst thing for public health," he added.

Quiet classrooms will continue to remain empty as Washingtonians stay at home to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

Reykdal said Friday high school seniors will still be allowed to graduate as long as they meet state requirements.

And he said steps are being taken to make certain that students' grade point averages do not suffer as a result of the coronavirus closure.

Watch the governor's news conference:

While students and teachers continue to adapt to isolated learning, there's even more uncertainty for others.

"All of my income from that part of the year is not going to come in this year," Eileen Sliwinsky, a substitute teacher in the Highline School District, said.

Sliwinsky says subbing isn't her family's primary income but she can't imagine what this means for her colleagues.

"It would just terrify me to go into this without the guarantee of some sort of income where I could pay my bills," she said.

Not only does this affect jobs but memories for students.

"Now, there's nothing," Dionne Eatmon, whose daughter is graduating high school this year, said.

Eatmon's daughter Brianna is a senior at Tacoma School of the Arts.

She says her family was planning on flying from Alabama to celebrate her graduation.

While she's still getting a diploma, that celebration is up in the air.

"They've already ordered their caps and gowns and class rings,” Eatmon said. “All of that stuff has been ordered and paid for so what do they do with it?"

In the meantime, school districts are reaching out to every parent in their districts to see who does and doesn't have internet so they can accommodate those that aren't connected.

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