As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increases in a number of western Washington counties, risk of exposure in those communities continues to grow as well. Closely connected to the growing concern about spread of this coronavirus is the potential for schools to contribute to rapid increases in transmission rates. It is for this reason that you have either heard or read about mandatory 6-week school closures taking place in three western Washington counties (King, Pierce, and Snohomish).
While we still have not seen a confirmed case of COVID-19 in either Spokane or Stevens County (you can access outbreak information & numbers at the WA State Dept. of Health), it is probably safe to say that the appearance of the virus in our area is just a matter of time. As the science of COVID-19 comes into sharper focus, and as its impacts continue to be felt in our state – albeit more significantly in other areas of the state at the current time – we must all be mindful of the potential for its impact to affect the normal operation schools in Deer Park. With that said, we strongly recommend that families begin to consider childcare options in the event that schools be forced to close for an extended period of time at some point in the coming weeks. We understand the potential for school closure to negatively impact many families and encourage you to think through your specific circumstances and needs.
As you would expect, Deer Park continues routine and now increased attention to cleaning and personal hygiene protocols, yet we know that mounting concerns may lead to recommended decisions that could alter our regular operations. We respect that the Office of the Governor holds emergency powers and authority in circumstances like this, and assuredly that public health agencies share in the authority relative to making decisions about a public school district’s normal operation. At this time, with the goal of keeping our doors open for as long as it is possible to do so safely, we will continue to work with and seek guidance from regional and state health officials. We are also committed to staying in close contact with you as the situation evolves and as we learn more information.
Here are a number of ways our district has responded and prepared this week as well as strategies and ideas we’re discussing and considering should school closure become necessary:
- While COVID-19 has yet to be verified in our area, it is the height of flu season, and thus our custodians continue to place special emphasis on cleaning and disinfecting hard surfaces in our buildings. Furthermore, this Friday (March 13th) is a Learning Improvement Day – a non-student day – which will provide our custodians with an excellent opportunity to proceed with a “bleach clean” of all hard surfaces in our buildings.
- We continue to work with regional and state authorities regarding any changes in their recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting. Should COVID-19 make it’s way to Deer Park, we’ve identified and purchased an effective cleaning/sanitizing product (Purell Surface Sanitizer).
- We are researching and developing processes and protocols for regularly cleaning the keyboards of the thousands of shared devices kids use each day. It is our belief that implementation and increased attention to these “processes and protocols” will provide a positive benefit to school health regardless of the present focus on COVID-19.
- Travel Restrictions (Puget Sound): We are restricting travel to the Puget Sound area for student groups and adult professional development. We are considering travel requests to other destinations on a case by case basis.
- Given the semi-rural and rural nature of our district and the related challenges of ensuring that families have Internet access and a computer for their child(ren) to use, we believe it is unrealistic to consider equitable implementation of a remote learning model. If schools close, it is highly likely that all educational services will be placed on hold.
- We are considering options for student access to food during any extended school closure. We understand and appreciate the important role our schools play in providing breakfast and lunch for many of our students.
- In the event that schools are closed for an extended time, we will follow guidance from OSPI and Washington’s State Board of Education related to making-up missed time and ensuring that seniors earn their diploma. We’re also receiving guidance from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and state officials on issues related to employee responsibility and compensation should we close school for any extended period of time.
We’re stressing the need to be calm and thoughtful, but we’re also proceeding with an abundance of caution in the midst of this public health crisis. The most current data and science around COVID-19 says that young people are contracting the virus at an incredibly low rate (as compared to middle-aged and elderly adults). Additionally, the vast majority of those who contract the disease experience mild symptoms, very similar to the common cold or influenza. That said, we recognize that the virus can be very dangerous for medically compromised and vulnerable people in our community and we want to do our part in helping to curtail spread of the virus.
Please feel free to reach out to me, District Superintendent Travis Hanson, with your questions or concerns (464.5500).