GOVERNORS IN FOUR states ordered schools closed for more than 7 million students Friday.
Gov. Jay Inslee closed all public and private schools in Washington state until April 24, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the same until March 30 – raising to nine the number of states to shutter their schools completely in response to the coronavirus.
The announcement in Washington expands a mandatory month-long closure of all public and private schools that Inslee ordered just a day ago for the three counties in the state that have been most affected by the pandemic.
“It is unfortunate but it is true that this virus is going to spread to other counties and it is going to spread very rapidly,” Inslee said in a press conference Friday. “We have concluded that a county-by-county approach to this epidemic is not sufficient. We need to get ahead of this wave and we need to do it today.”
Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of schools, said during the press conference that while some regions of the state still have no confirmed cases, the concerns of parents and the mounting absences of students, teachers and bus drivers had complicated the day-to-day operation of most school districts.
Reykdal said that in the coming days, school districts will work out how to ensure children continue receiving school meals – in many cases bus drivers will be delivering meals, he said – and establish last-resort childcare centers for parents who are health care workers and first responders.
“Our work is moving forward,” he said. “It just looks different.”
Pritzker’s decision comes a day after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pledged to keep Chicago schools open in light of how many disadvantaged students count on the school system for, among other things, food and warmth.
“I understand the gravity of this action and what it means for every community in our state,” Pritzker said in a press conference. “This is the right thing to do, to protect our students and their teachers, school workers and parents.”
Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson were not at the governor’s press conference and instead announced their own for later Friday evening.
With New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also announcing the closure of public schools, the number of statewide K-12 closures climbed to nine: Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington state.
As of Friday afternoon, nearly 22,000 schools that enroll more than 15 million students were closed or slated to close, according to Education Week. The latest announcement by the four states pushes that total to more than 22 million students.