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Washington State's Largest School District Closes Due To Coronavirus

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The public schools in and around Seattle are closing for at least two weeks because of the COVID-19 outbreak in the region. That has left some parents wondering whether they have the resources to look after their children during this time. Ann Dornfeld reports from member station KUOW.

ANN DORNFELD, BYLINE: Superintendent Denise Juneau says the growing outbreak has made it nearly impossible for the district to operate.

DENISE JUNEAU: An increasing number of our schools need to be deep cleaned each day because of some of the potential of some sort of student or staff contact with COVID-19 and, of course, the announcement today from Governor Jay Inslee to increase social distancing and to limit large group gatherings.

DORNFELD: The governor on Wednesday ordered a ban on most gatherings of 250 people or more. He did not order schools to close but asked districts to prepare for possible shutdowns. Earlier in the week, there had been a growing chorus of calls for the district to close. Students and staff at one south Seattle high school called in sick or walked out in protest Wednesday. The district had told them of a possible exposure at their school and of a confirmed case at a school nearby.

HAWA JAGANA: They should have closed it days ago. We don't want to wait for someone to get it.

DORNFELD: Hawa Jagana is a senior at Franklin High School.

JAGANA: Someone might have it but is not tested and spread the virus.

DORNFELD: Superintendent Juneau had insisted for days that it was important to leave schools open as long as possible because so many students rely on services like school meals. But at Franklin High School, teacher Matt Carter says many low-income students live with family members with health problems or other vulnerabilities to the virus.

MATT CARTER: Lots of kids at all of our southeast schools live with grandparents in the home and have extended family and close contact. So I just wish they'd done this a week ago.

DORNFELD: At Concord International Elementary School, mom Roxana Rivera says the closure made her a bit worried about how the next two weeks will go.

ROXANA RIVERA: (Through interpreter) Because the kids won't have anything to do besides be home. But it doesn't affect me as much as other parents who work and there's nowhere to leave them.

DORNFELD: A district north of Seattle closed schools last week because of the outbreak and switched to online learning. In Seattle, that's not possible, says Superintendent Juneau, because so many low-income students lack access to Internet or computers at home. The district plans to offer emergency food to students beginning Monday, although the details are still in the works. Juneau said the district will work with the Health Department to determine when schools can reopen.

For NPR News, I'm Ann Dornfeld in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "PROMISED LAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.