Just weeks ago, educators weren’t sure how they might be affected by coronavirus if an outbreak hit the U.S.
Now, thousands of schools nationwide. have begun shutting down in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus that has sickened more than 1,200 people across the country, according to Johns Hopkins data, and killed at least 33.
At least 18,700 schools are closed or planning to close, affecting at least 8.1 million students, according to an Education Week count Friday morning.
Officials in seven states ― Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and West Virginia ― had announced statewide school closures as of Friday afternoon. Some districts are tacking on extra time to previously scheduled spring breaks; Those in Ohio, for example, will go on a three-week spring break beginning Monday.
“We know this will impact families. We understand the sacrifice this will entail, but this is the right thing to do,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said Thursday on Twitter.
The closures may inevitably drag on longer, officials warned.
“We don’t know what the future will bring,” Baltimore County Superintendent Darryl Williams said Thursday evening at a press conference announcing Maryland’s closures. “We are out for two weeks. Is that the end of it or will it be longer?”
Decisions to shutter schools for public safety are being made at the local level as well. In Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school system will close for two weeks beginning Monday, along with public schools in San Diego, the districts announced Friday. Together, the two districts serve around 750,000 students.
Officials in a number of other municipalities, including Washington, D.C., have also announced plans to close temporarily.
Washington state, which has experienced the highest number of deaths due to coronavirus in the country, is so far only closing schools on a targeted basis. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced Thursday that schools in three counties around Seattle ― King, Snohomish and Pierce ― will shut down until at least April 24 in order to help contain the virus.
Seattle’s nursing home communities have been particularly hard-hit.
“Our [school] systems need to be prepared for a potentially longer closure in the near term and [without a vaccine] we have to be prepared that this is back in the fall or still with us in the fall,” Washington state schools chief Chris Reykdal told The Seattle Times.
In neighboring Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown (D) acknowledged the strain school closures place on many families in her announcement. But, she said, so many people are working from home that “it has now become impossible to functionally operate schools due to workforce issues and student absences.”
“Schools are experiencing critical shortages in staff, and superintendents are concerned for school personnel who are at elevated risk such as those over age 60 and those with underlying medical issues,” Brown said Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control warned last month that schools could face extended closures as the country struggles to test for and contain the coronavirus.
Ideally, schools will be able to continue instruction through online learning and video chats, but not every school will be able to pull off a high-tech alternative to classroom learning. One solution is to go low-tech by preparing paper packets of lessons and assignments.