File photo: Students at John Haye Elementary in Queen Anne walk down the stairs during a regular school day in this file photo. All Washington state students will not return to school for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year after Gov. Jay Inslee mandated they remain closed Monday afternoon.
File photo: Students at John Haye Elementary in Queen Anne walk down the stairs during a regular school day in this file photo. All Washington state students will not return to school for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year after Gov. Jay Inslee mandated they remain closed Monday afternoon.

Washington students in K-12th grades have the rest of the school year off after Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that all in-school instruction is cancelled through the rest of the school year.

All public, private and charter schools have been closed in the state since at least March 17 after Inslee declared the shutdowns necessary to “flatten the curve” and prevent the spread of COVID-19 cases. In a press conference Monday afternoon, Inslee extended those closures through the summer, stating the state cannot chance reopening schools before the pandemic is fully contained in the state. As of Sunday evening, there were 7,984 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 338 deaths.

“This school closure is part and parcel of those efforts not only to flatten the curve as it goes up, but to reduce the number of deaths that occur as it goes down,” Inslee said.

School districts and educators are now tasked with finding the best ways to educate students through distance and on-line learning.

Inslee said remote learning will never replace in-person education, “but this unprecedented health emergency demands that we take this step, both for the sake of our children and for our community.”

Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal stressed that seniors and other students will not be negatively impacted by this decision and tasked school districts with finding ways to ensure the older students get the credits they need to graduate so they can move onto a higher level of education.

Inslee and Reykdal also said state officials are working with online providers and telecom companies to get as many students internet access as possible, as well as devices.

Inslee also said in-school learning will be allowed for English language learners and students with disabilities provided social distancing is met.

In his address, Reykdal said Washington is one of 14 states that has cancelled school for the remainder of the year, and Oregon and Idaho are considering the same, and he expects a number of school districts will follow suit in the coming months.

Reykdal also did not guarantee school would start back up this fall. He said just one case of COVID-19 would lead to school closures and further disruption.

“A rush back to school puts significant risk in learning continuity that at this time would not be better than the model that we are developing and advancing at a distance,” he said. “We do not want that curve to suddenly spike up because we acted to too quickly to come back.”

Reykdal also stated state officials and telecom companies in the private sector have to get students access to technology and internet connectivity because, while this pandemic may happen only once in 100 years, there will be future emergencies.

“From the seeds of crisis come the strong, strong roots and blossom of innovation, and that's the moment we find ourselves in today,” Reykdal said.

Inslee stressed that no students will be harmed by the decision to cancel school, even though that may not be immediately evident.

“In the next several weeks, our K-12 schools are not going to be the best they've ever been,” he said, adding he believes education can be the most creative, innovative and passionate it's ever been.

In a letter to parents, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau said the district will continue to provide essential support for students and families. According to the letter, the district's nutrition services team has served an average of 3,000 meals per day, and community partners have provided weekend meals for more than 1,600 families each Friday. The district has also worked with community-based organizations to provide child care across the city for children of first responders.

Juneau also said in her letter, district staff are providing continuous learning during and have distributed learning packets to an average of 7,000 students and hosted 60 new teacher-led lessons via SPS-TV and YouTube.

“Teachers and staff are working tirelessly to provide continuous learning for all students during the closure, and we will continue to hone our process as we adapt to new state directives,” Juneau said in her letter.

Juneau said the district will provide more information about what the extended closure means for staff and students and how it affects seniors graduating and students with disabilities.