Gov. Inslee’s statewide decree extends to late April
All schools in the Methow Valley will be closed for six weeks starting Tuesday (March 17), following a decree by Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday (March 13) that closed all public and private schools across the state to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The first possible date that schools can reopen is Monday, April 27.
Citing a “very fast-moving and fluid situation” and “a clear and present danger of epic proportions,” Inslee closed all schools, affecting 1.2 million students across the state. The decree builds on his closure of schools in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties just one day earlier.
In addition to closing schools, Inslee banned all social, spiritual and recreational gatherings of more than 50 people statewide, extending an earlier restriction that applied only in the most-affected counties. Inslee emphasized the effectiveness of social distancing — separation of at least 6 feet — “to keep the virus from overtaking the state.”
Inslee also added a prohibition on visits to adult family homes to an existing ban on visitors to nursing homes.
“I don’t take these decisions lightly — this is for the health of all Washingtonians,” Inslee said. Such extreme measures are essential because people can infect others with COVID-19 when they have no symptoms or don’t know they are sick, he said.
Administrators and staff in the Methow Valley School District met Friday morning — a few hours before Inslee’s announcement — to do contingency planning for an anticipated school closure, Superintendent Tom Venable said. “It’s a complex dynamic for a life-threatening challenge,” he said.
The Methow Valley School District is planning free food distribution throughout the valley, for all children ages zero to 18, not only those who receive free or reduced meals or who attend the public schools, starting Wednesday (March 18), Venable said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal joined Inslee for the announcement on Friday. Referencing the “relentless commitment to shared sacrifice of all Washingtonians,” Reykdal said there is widespread support for a statewide policy.
Schools are committed to assisting vulnerable populations, to providing meals, and to ensuring that juniors and seniors get necessary credits for graduation, Reykdal said. There are no shortages of food supplies to provide meals for students, he said.
Preschool and college
Little Star Montessori School in Winthrop closed as of Monday (March 16) and will remain closed through at least Friday, April 24. “We recognize the significant impact this will have on our families and are working in partnership with MVSD [the school district], Room One and others to support families as best that we can. Finding other options for child care will be at the forefront of many of our minds,” said Executive Director Dani Reynaud in an announcement.
“We do not take the decision to close school lightly and we know this will affect every aspect of our lives. We will get through this together and in support of one another,” she said.
Inslee restricted activities for colleges, community colleges and technical schools during the same six-week period. There will be no in-person classes, but online study will continue. Some labs and other activities can take place as long as participants practice social distancing, Inslee said. Dorms, food services and medical clinics will continue to operate.
Wenatchee Valley College (WVC) shifted most classes online through the end of the academic year and suspended all events involving more than 20 people at its Omak and Wenatchee campuses. This week’s final exams will be conducted online. Both campuses will remain open and most offices are open and operational.
Spring quarter at WVC will begin April 13, a week later than originally scheduled, so that instructors can prepare to conduct classes remotely.
Methow Valley school staff have made child care arrangements for elementary-age students whose parents are medical workers or first responders, but “we’re not prepared to run a child care service that looks like a school day,” Venable said.
The state will prioritize child care for certain families, including those in vulnerable economic situations and those with parents who are health care providers or first responders, Inslee said. While schools will help with child care for certain people, they should be “child care center of last resort,” he said. “We can’t turn schools into child care centers, because we need to prevent the disease.”
Short school year
Schools can extend the end of the school year through June 19, but that would add only five days. The other five weeks would most likely be excused through a state waiver of the required 180 days of instruction, Venable said.
“We’ll meet students where they’re at in the fall — there’s no way around it. A significant closure will affect what we’re able to accomplish academically,” Venable said. “But many would say it’s a small price to pay, given the alternative.”
Methow Valley schools will provide academic-enrichment materials at the drop sites so students can maintain their skills. The schoolwork would be optional and not checked by teachers, Venable said.
Closing the schools is a responsible action for the state to take to slow the spread of the virus, Venable said.
Disease toll climbs
When Inslee issued the new restrictions on Friday (March 13), he noted that in just four days, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 had gone from 162 to 568, with deaths rising from 21 to 37. Counties with COVID-19 cases comprise three-fourths of the state’s population, he said.
That toll climbed over the weekend, to 1,012 cases and 52 deaths as of Tuesday (March 17). There are confirmed cases in 20 counties, including seven in eastern Washington — Chelan, Grant, Kittitas, Yakima, Columbia, Spokane and Lincoln, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). Health officials are still working to match 70 cases with the affected county.
DOH also reported 13,117 tests for the disease that came back negative.
Meals: The school district will provide “grab-and-go” meals starting Wednesday (March 18). Breakfast and lunch, prepared by the district’s food-services staff, will be available to all youths, ages 0 to 18, at no cost, whether they attend the district’s schools or not.
Meals will be delivered Monday through Friday by bus drivers and staff at each bus stop on the regular morning bus schedule. If you are uncertain which bus stop your student is assigned to, go to methow.org and click on the “Transportation” link or call 997-2113.
In addition, grab-and-go meals will be available from noon to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, at four drop zones:
• Carlton Fire Department
• Independent Learning Center (TwispWorks Campus) in Twisp
• Winthrop Barn
• Mazama Community Club
Friday-food program: The program coordinated by The Cove will continue to provide supplemental food for the weekend to students who need extra support. The program currently serves 130 children but is prepared to expand to accommodate additional needs. The packages will be piggybacked on the school-meal distribution.
Child care: The district will provide child care for elementary-age students whose parents work as medical personnel or first responders, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Participating students will be picked up at their regular morning bus stop and dropped off at one of four evening drop stations (same as the meal drop zones above).
Child care is coordinated by the employees who manage the district’s existing afterschool programs. Child care begins Monday (March 23).
No contingency plan for child care? Call Little Star at 996-2801.
Academic enrichment: The three principals are designing academic enrichment materials for grades K-12 for the next six weeks or longer. Teachers will provide more information to students and families on Monday (March 23).