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Aki Kurose

Many schools in Washington state have closed because of the coronavirus

March 11, 2020
At least 115 public and private schools and universities have closed their facilities for one or more days

At least 115 public and private schools and universities in Washington state have closed their facilities for one or more days to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Seattle Times reports that mounting pressure from parents and public concern over the potential for the COVID-19 coronavirus has caused the scale and breadth of the closures has expanded dramatically.

The Snohomish district shut down on Tuesday and planned to reopen Wednesday.

Seattle Public Schools announced its first closures tuesday evening—Aki Kurose Middle and Cleveland High.

Seattle officials say both schools needed a deep cleaning: at Aki Kurose, a staff member contracted the virus, and at Cleveland, which district officials said would be shut for one day only, a staff member came into close contact with someone who was diagnosed.

Many of these decisions are made in the span of just a few hours, with or without direction from other agencies or a confirmed case of the virus. The varying explanations officials have offered for closing reveal a divide in what school administrators consider to be the cost of shutting down classrooms.

[ MORE: List of schools in Washington state that have closed (Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction)]

For James Everett, who leads Meridian School District in Whatcom County, hearing that a middle school staff member came into close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 was enough to shutter his four schools for deep cleaning from Monday through Thursday. 

“It could become a case where key staff members could become infected and then become unable to provide services,” says Everett. 

In places like Seattle, administrators have been more conservative with cancellations in an effort to avoid cutting off social services to kids. The district says it is closing Aki Kurose indefinitely at the recommendation of King County health officials. 

Aki Kurose students who depend on school for free or reduced-price meals will be able to pick up food on campus between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays while the school is closed. 

Meanwhile, school attendance rates have dipped. On March 9, nearly 15% of Seattle Public Schools’ 50,000-plus students were absent, compared with 7.4% just 10 days prior.

Staff absences are up, too. Last Friday, 8.9% of certified teachers called in to take a sick day or personal day, compared with the nearly 5% average rate for the last four weeks.

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