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Spokane superintendent remains ‘hopeful’ schools will reopen, even as Inslee says they won’t

April 28, 2020 Updated Tue., April 28, 2020 at 10:25 p.m.

Lewis and Clark High School's message to Spokane photographed at the school on March 21. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Lewis and Clark High School's message to Spokane photographed at the school on March 21. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

President Donald Trump’s request to governors to “seriously consider” reopening schools was met with a mixed response Tuesday in Olympia and Spokane.

Three weeks after Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all schools closed through the end of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his office reiterated that Trump’s recommendation changes nothing.

“The governor has said that schools are closed through the end of the school year,” said Tara Lee, his director of communications.

“We are keeping the health and safety of students and educators first and foremost. Notably, the school year is scheduled to end for most Washington students within the next five to six weeks anyway.”

However, Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger said the district “has a plan B” should circumstances change and allow the reopening of buildings.

“We’re still hopeful that school will open” before the school year ends, Redinger said. “Our ultimate goal would be to have live graduations and have school reopen.”

Since the long-term closures were announced, Redinger said the district has heard “a little from both sides” over Inslee’s decision.

Redinger said Inslee has the final say on school closures, but noted that during the early stages of the pandemic, school closures were restricted to King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

The closures were widened a few days later to the rest of the state, then extended on April 12 to the end of the academic year.

However, Spokane County recorded only one new coronavirus case on Monday.

“The situation is different depending on where you live,” Redinger said. “We’re hoping the governor would look at opening some more areas.”

If schools were to reopen, Redinger said, “a big part of that” is how social distancing would be managed and enforced.

“We’re doing a lot of research, looking around the country,” Redinger said.

Trump addressed the issue of schools during a conference call Monday with governors.

“Some of you might start thinking about school openings, because a lot of people are wanting to have school openings,” Trump said.

“It’s not a big subject, young children have done very well in this disaster that we’ve all gone through.”

The president added: “So a lot of people are thinking about the school openings. And I think it’s something … they can seriously consider and maybe get going on it.”

That appears unlikely in Washington, which is one of 43 states which have ordered or recommended that schools don’t reopen this academic year.

Less than two weeks ago, state superintendent Chris Reykdal questioned whether school facilities would be open even by autumn.

“Short of a vaccine, which people continue to tell us is 12-18 months away, we have to figure out if it’s safe to come back even in the fall,” Reykdal said. “Will we see a spike in cases if we are all sort of released from our social distancing framework?”

Should the virus linger in the general population, schools would be the perfect incubator for another outbreak, Reykdal said.

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