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COVID-19

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School’s out for how long, exactly? Spokane Public Schools plans for up to 6-month break

UPDATED: Thu., March 19, 2020

Spokane Public Schools is planning for a coronavirus-caused closure that could last much longer than mandated so far. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Public Schools is planning for a coronavirus-caused closure that could last much longer than mandated so far. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

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As the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of abating, parents and students are beginning to wonder: School’s out for how long, exactly?

In Washington, the plan is to reopen on April 27. But what if the coronavirus crisis isn’t under control by then?

And while some states have yet to order school closures, others are considering shutting down until the fall. Kansas already has done so, and California appears to be considering the move as well.

At Spokane Public Schools, contingency plans are already being laid for a break that could last six months.

“We’ve been talking about that a lot, with what’s happening around the nation,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said at a press conference Thursday morning at Garfield Elementary School.

“It could be likely that it could be extended perhaps to the end of the school year,” Redinger said.

In that case, the district would accelerate the move toward online instruction.

When school let out on Monday, all students were sent home with paper, pencils and learning materials.

That’s the short-term plan should schools reopen on April 27.

“A long-term plan would look quite different,” Redinger said.

“We’ve worked diligently with our teaching and learning staff and our Spokane Virtual Learning staff to make sure that we can come up with a program of distance learning that would be very effective and not let our students fall behind,” Redinger said.

However, in a district where 57% of students receive free and reduced-price meals, lack of laptops and connectivity make that problematic.

The district has 1,500 laptops available for checkout, but needs several thousand more to guarantee equitable learning for all students.

That so-called “digital divide” occurs every summer, but it’s magnified for children in low-income families.

A six-month gap could be crippling for many at-risk children, said Amber Waldref, director of the Zone Project, which works with businesses and other organizations to help families in northeast Spokane.

“That’s what we’re seeing every summer,” she said.

Waldref said she hopes when the community starts to see it happening during the school year, “maybe we can get a better understanding of this problem.”

However, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, downplayed the concern about lost time.

“Let’s remember that we’ve actually gone from August to September through the middle of March and have had most of this school year before people start panicking that we’ve lost an entire year,” she said earlier this week.

Florida has canceled all tests for the year, Kansas has decided to keep schools closed through the summer and Arizona plans to announce the suspension of makeup days.

Most ominously, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week the state’s 6.1 million students and their families may have to prepare to remain closed indefinitely.

“Don’t anticipate schools are going to open up in a week, please don’t anticipate in a few weeks,” Newsom said. “I would plan and assume that it’s unlikely that many of these schools, few if any, will open before the summer break.”

President Donald Trump heightened those fears earlier this week by saying the pandemic might not subside until July or August.

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