Fear, questions and preparation for the worst have taken over the Eastside since being named the epicenter for the coronavirus (COVID-19) Feb. 29.
Mercer Island, Bellevue, Redmond and Snoqualmie Valley have no known confirmed cases. Kirkland, Bothell—and now Issaquah—however, are at the center of the outbreak.
Cities and local agencies are scrambling to keep residents safe and informed as new confirmed cases emerge. And school districts are quickly implementing strategies for cleaning, disinfecting schools and plans for continuing instruction in the event of a school closure.
Cleaning the schools and facilities
According to several school districts, the districts continue to diligently clean and sanitize the schools, buses and other buildings.
“District nurses and lead custodians will continue to collaborate on ways to keep our schools and building sites safe,” the Mercer Island School District (MISD) said in a release. “The district will remind students, staff and visitors, to use universal precautions such as hand washing, coughing into a tissue or elbow and avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth.”
Snoqualmie Valley School District (SVSD), Lake Washington School District (LWSD), Bellevue School District (BSD), Issaquah School District (ISD) and Northshore School District (NSD) shared similar responses to families.
“Per Public Health guidance, custodial staff are following standard procedures for cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces in our schools, and additional supplies have been ordered,” SVSD said.”Secretaries and nurses continue to track absenteeism rates that may be illness-related, as they do every flu season.”
“Custodians will continue with regular cleaning with an emphasis on touchpoints at all buildings and schools,” LWSD said.
“Cleaning for health is our highest priority and we have modified our daily cleaning routines accordingly,” BSD said.
BSD said they will reteach and establish regular handwashing schedules, correct use of tissues and disposal, and coughing and sneezing routines for students and staff members.
“Custodians are following procedures for cleaning and disinfecting with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered disinfectant with a claim for human coronaviruses. Our custodians are trained to use disinfectants in a safe and effective manner, and to clean up potentially infectious materials. Typically, this means daily sanitizing of surfaces and objects that are touched often,” ISD said.
NSD schools were closed on March 3 for deep cleaning and staff training.
“Our support services staff will be coordinating district-wide disinfection of each school campus. The purpose for such a training day aligns with the encouragement given by Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, to all school districts to develop contingency plans in the event school buildings must close in response to the coronavirus,” NSD Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid wrote in her blog post to families on March 2.
No school or activity cancellations at this time
At this time, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) and Public Health – Seattle and King County are not recommending school closures or cancellation of activities such as athletic events, school assemblies or other community events in the schools.
All Eastside schools, with the exception of NSD, remain open.
NSD is the only district so far to close schools due to COVID-19. NSD closed Bothell High School Feb. 27-28 due to a strong suspicion of a staff member’s contact with someone with the virus. Frank Love Elementary was closed March 2 after a staff member developed flu-like symptoms and is being tested for the virus.
All NSD schools were closed March 3 to provide training to staff to engage students in remote learning that may take place outside the four walls of their classrooms should it become necessary.
Several school districts have announced their policies regarding excused absences in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We understand that, out of a concern for their student’s safety, some families may choose to keep their children home even if not ill. If a student misses school for this reason, the absence may be considered excused. Similarly, if a student self-quarantines or is quarantined on the advice from medical professionals, such absences will also be excused,” MISD said. “If a student self-quarantines or is quarantined on the advice of medical professionals, the student’s family should immediately contact the school. As with any illness-related absence, we will work with each individual student and family in support of the student’s learning.”
“As with the flu or other illness resulting in an extended absence, should your child become ill you can contact the school to excuse the absence. Teachers will work with students and families to make up the coursework according to our attendance policies and procedures,” ISD said. “Please be assured that as a parent or legal guardian, you have the right to excuse your student’s absence on any given day. If you decide to keep your child home as a precaution, please contact your school’s attendance office.”
“If a student needs to stay home for legitimate health-related reasons (including possible exposure to virus, potential virus symptoms, living with high-risk individuals who cannot afford to be exposed, high-risk student health condition, etc.) it will be treated as an excused absence,” BSD said. “While attendance is very important, we know that right now parents may consider keeping children home from school. If you choose to keep your child home, please contact the school to excuse the absence.”
“Should families in any of our district schools choose to keep their students home due to illness or out of concern around this emerging situation, this will be considered an excused absence and work will be able to be made up,” NSD Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid wrote in her blog post to families on March 2. “At this time, teachers will connect with students to foreshadow the possibility of remote learning should it become necessary.”
Plans if schools are closed for long periods of time
School districts are organizing plans in the event schools are closed for an extended period of time.
LWSD has activated its Emergency Operations Center.
“This team of LWSD staff is actively working to coordinate information, communications and operations to ensure that we are being intentional about how best to prepare for and respond to the needs of our students and staff,” LWSD said.
MISD was looking at options.
“Our district will take a measured approach to the teaching and learning process if schools are closed for an extended period of time, and consider a variety of options when planning for the educational program for all of our students,” MISD said. “Educators in the district are continuing to meet to develop ways to make any existing online tools and resources even more easily accessed by families to engage students at home.”
At NSD, preparations were already in place for potential remote learning.
“All Northshore schools closed to students so we can provide training to staff to engage students in remote learning that may take place outside the four walls of their classrooms should this become necessary in the coming days,” NSD Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid wrote in her blog post to families on March 2.
An SVSD team is working to plan for a possible pandemic situation.
“Potential options for continuing education services have been part of those discussions if public health officials require a period of social distancing and long-term school closure. Online learning, unfortunately, presents many challenges for our district at this time,” SVSD said. “Any contingency plan would need to ensure equity and access to resources for all SVSD students, and not all families in our community have computer or internet access.
“While we’re making progress on this for students in grades 6-12 this year, we do not have the means to equip elementary school students with devices. Nor is our district set up to adequately serve the needs of students with individualized learning needs via remote support. Additional logistics would require staff training, lesson planning, tech support, etc.,” SVSD continued. “Therefore, it is not feasible that our school district would be able to support online learning at this time.”