Renton School District falls under Governor Jay Inslee’s mandate closing all public and private schools in King, Snohomish and Piece counties until Friday, April 24. That’s six weeks that Renton schools and its partners will need to find creative ways to offer resources to the most vulnerable students and parents that rely on schools for childcare, food and other services.
School districts in the rest of the state are being told to prepare for a state-wide closure in the upcoming days. All Renton Schools will be closing Monday, March 16 to Friday, April 24.
During a press conference at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, Inslee announced the closures in response to the Washington COVID-19 outbreak. Just a day before Inslee also announced a proclamation to ban all events or gatherings with crowds of 250 or more people.
“During times of uncertainty and risk, we all have to make tough decisions,” Inslee said. “This is one of them.”
Inslee said he spoke with superintendents from all three counties to create contingent plans to keep providing meals and shelter for low-income and homeless students. He said the state is also speaking with nonprofits to help provide meals to neighborhoods.
Inslee also said superintendents should provide childcare for no cost to medical care employees.
While the proclamation is only for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, Inslee said he may include other counties in the future and districts should start making plans.
“I trust the districts in the rest of the state will have conversations with their communities to be ready,” he said.
The Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruct Chris Reykdal said schools remained a safe place and rates of COVID-19 in children are low, but consistently changing situations have led to the closures. Teens and children may never be symptomatic, he said, but they can spread the virus to grandparents and vulnerable family members.
The three counties include over 600,000 students, nearly half of the student population in the state.
Reykdal said he expects schools to start within a month, but that could change.
Attendance numbers in the three counties show an 82 percent increase in absences during the outbreak, Reykdal said. Staff attendance is also down, and many bus drivers and substitute teachers are over the age of 60 and are not attending work.
“The outbreak continues to expand … you’ve seen those numbers and seen where they are located,” Reykdal said. “I want to say to folks who keep thinking this is like the flu … we don’t have a vaccination for this and that’s quite a way out.”
Reykdal also said this will give school leaders a chance to prepare for this upcoming fall in COVID-19 rises again with the usual flu and cold season.
Reykdal also called out local labor unions to gather and help prepare districts and to work with district leaders for teachers’ issues.
“We are going to keep sending money to our school districts,” Reykdal said. “It will still include transportation and supporting individuals. This will take an enormous economic impact on our state and our nation. Our hourly workers are challenged … we are working to try to figure out strategies to keep compensation flowing. And every single family who needs a meal can come to our schools. If you are a working family and you find yourself in a difficult situation, there is not going to be a long line to get a nutritious breakfast or lunch for your children.”
High school seniors and their parents will need to be in contact with their high schools for graduation requirements, Reykdal said. State testing will be suspended statewide most likely. Reykdal said there is no meaningful way to test students while classes are out.
“We haven’t seen this in the state of Washington or the United States in over 100 years,” Reykdal said. “There are nervous and worried families, and we are working really hard in partnership to find answers to those questions and to maximize support for families. We are a visible observation for the rest of the country, which is why we are taking broad steps with our schools.”
Renton School District on the closure
Updated on Friday, March 13:
Renton Schools has announced that starting on Tuesday, March 17, the district will offer “grab and go” breakfast and lunch meal for all kids ages one to 18, for free, at every Renton school and four apartment complexes. The meal bags, which will contain both breakfast and lunch, are intended to be taken off campus and can be picked up through car windows.
The meals will be available from 11 a.m. to noon for pickup.
Besides Renton Schools, here are the four additional sites:
- Green Tree/Park Hill, 6900 S 125th Street, Seattle
- Creston Point, 13445 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Seattle
- Royal Hills, 3000 Royal Hills Drive SE, Renton
- Stonebrook, 12210 SE Petrovitsky Road, Renton
In addition, Communities in Schools of Renton-Tukwila (CISR) has shared how it will continue to support students and families. It will coordinate weekend food bags with partnership of Renton’s Salvation Army, offer a pen-pal program for mentor check-ins, do weekly check-ins with Renton High School students that work with CISR, and offer home visits to deliver basic supplies.
In addition, they have created a basic needs emergency fund that community members can donate to here.
At the school board meeting on Wednesday, March 11, Superintendent Damien Pattenaude hinted at the possibility of upcoming lengthy closures. It was determined by health officials that a brief closure would not be enough to change the infection rate of the coronavirus. Right now one Hazen student and a parent tested positive, but they are now both recovered and were approved to return to regular life. Other tests in the district have come back negative or are still pending.
The critical need for these services are causing anxiety and nerves for families that desperately need them. As of October 2019, about 48 percent of students in the Renton School District are on free or reduced lunch. Many students that are considered at-risk youth or experiencing homelessness work with the school district’s partner Communities in Schools of Renton and Tukwila (CISR).
Development Director Kathy Ulrich said they have been working with the district for a while now to prepare for a long term closure. From her site coordinators talking to families, their biggest concerns are hygiene and food supplies, as well as childcare as certain parents struggle with not being able to telework or even start to lose their jobs due to economic impact of coronavirus.
“There’s definitely those basic needs that are in jeopardy right now,” Ulrich said. “We want to do everything we can to continue to serve those students.”
Ulrich said there’s a lot of community businesses and groups being creative to address needs, and that CISR have plans to creatively provide resources to families.. In the meantime, community members can help CISR by donating to the March hygiene product drive, donating shelf-stable snacks, or making direct financial contributions at rentontukwila.ciswa.org.
Here’s the district’s statement on closures and services for families. (Updated to the March 13 statement).
Student medications may be picked up by authorized family members on Friday, March 13 or Monday, March 16 during regular school hours.
Learning During the Closure
Renton Schools have provided resources for at-home learning during our closure. We are committed to providing equitable learning experiences for our students. These resources are intended to support skill maintenance and development.
Paper copies were distributed to students at all schools on Friday, March 13 and directions posted on the district website page for students and families. Additional copies will be available at schools during meal service.
We worked with instructional leaders to develop the learning resources and guidelines regarding digital platforms, content, support structures, and shared resources. Our learning resources outline developmentally appropriate learning opportunities for different ages of students, including many non-digital options for learning. At our secondary schools (grades 6-12), all students have a district-provided Chromebook (and district-provided internet hotspot as needed) which provides them access to online learning platforms in addition to offline learning activities. We are continuing to develop learning resources and strategies that can support students with various needs, especially special education and English language services. In all of these plans, there are equity considerations and impacts to families in terms of student learning support.
We are working with our partners and with the state education office (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction-OSPI), on clear guidance to provide childcare during the school closure. Details to follow.
Public Health Seattle & King County provides this guidance for childcare programs:
COVID-19 is spreading in King County, with hundreds of cases having been reported to date. We expect the case count to double every 5–7 days. Public Health is implementing community mitigation strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19. We are asking individuals, child care programs, businesses, schools, healthcare providers, and community-based organizations to take steps to help everyone comply with the recommendations. We have also released guidance for anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 and their contacts on how to prevent the spread to others. The goals for using mitigation strategies for communities with local COVID-19 transmission are to protect:
Individuals at risk for severe illness, including older adults and people of any age with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune system, asthma and other lung diseases.
The healthcare workforce and critical infrastructure workforces so that sick people can get the medical care they need and other aspects of the community can continue to function
These approaches are used to minimize the illnesses and deaths caused by COVID-19 and also the social and economic impacts.
During this mandated closure, our district will join others in the region to suspend all athletic activities, including practice.
School/Field use During Closure
Our schools, buildings, fields and pools remain closed to outside organized teams/groups through the end of March.
The state’s education office (OSPI) is cancelling all state testing for the 2019-2020 school year. This includes the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS), the Washington Access to Instruction and Measurement (WA-AIM), and WIDA Alternate ACCESS for English learners.
Renton Technical College
Renton Technical College was maintaining regular operations but changed the end of winter quarter to Friday, March 20 and starting spring quarter on Monday, April 13. On Friday, Inslee ordered universities to restrict activity on campus, except for lab and clinical classes that observe social distancing practices. RTC states it’s well prepared for the governor’s orders and that it will refine the instructional plans in the future days.
They are also refining contingency plans in the event of needed closures. One person in the RTC community is being tested for COVID-19, according to it’s update from March 11. That person is still waiting for their results and those who were in contact with them were notified to monitor their health.