Joining about a hundred colleges and universities in the US that have cancelled in-person classes during the health risks brought by the now-pandemic outbreak of the coronavirus, Seattle Public Schools announced today the cancellation of school for at least two weeks, beginning tomorrow, the Seattle Times reports.
“We know you do not have time to do everything and we trust that you will do your best given the circumstances,” the paper quoted an email sent by the district today to parents as saying.
Supt Denise Juneau said in the statement that the closure was a last resort. “Closing schools is the last thing we ever want to do, but, obviously, this is an unprecedented situation. … The health and well-being of our students and staff is one of our top priorities and that’s a primary reason for the decision, but it’s also because of the potential wide reach COVID-19 can have.”
For the moment, school is cancelled until at least the last week of March, assuming a minimum two-week closure beginning on March 12. An emergency food plan will be announced on Monday, the district said, and details related to human resources, special education, school cleaning, budgeting, and graduations are expected to be announced at a future date, assuming schools remain closed.
Noting more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 deaths from coronavirus, the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic earlier today. “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” the organization said in a press release. “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
In school districts where many students qualify for free or reduced-price meals because they are poor, including Los Angeles and New York City, officials have kept schools open so far partly because of concern over keeping students fed, Politico reported. Soon concerns over public safety may demand shutting down.
“Schools should be thinking about what they’re going to do if they’re going to close and how they’re going to ensure that their students’ nutritional needs are going to be met,” the news site quoted Crystal FitzSimons, director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs at the Food Research & Action Center, a nonprofit organization tackling hunger issues, as saying.
The US Department of Agriculture, which manages school nutrition programs, said schools that are forced to close can switch to different programs used during summer months.