KIRKLAND, Wash-- Tonight, there`s a question being asked by millions of parents in our state and school superintendents: Should schools be canceled because of the coronavirus?
It's a growing debate about the safety of our students, their need to learn and be in the classroom, and if fear is driving some of these decisions.
Michael Finlayson, an eighth-grader at Kamiakin Middle School in Kirkland, launched an online petition last weekend. It says the Lake Washington School District should close schools until we know more about the new coronavirus and the illness it creates called COVID-19.
As of Thursday night, the petition had collected 21,000 online signatures.
Finlayson said, "We are literally a half-mile away from ground zero for this virus," referring to the outbreak at the Life Care Center nursing facility where most of the eleven coronavirus deaths in this state have taken place.
Finlayson has not been to school since news of the outbreak. His parents discussed it with the school, which for now is considering his absence excused. Eighth-grader Ryan Woodhead has also been missing school all week due to his parents' concerns about the coronavirus.
Woodhead said, "I also an infant sibling. So we just thought it was really dangerous."
The Lake Washington School District, one of the largest school districts in the state, has cited recommendations from Seattle & King County Public Health. It says schools should not close unless they have a confirmed case of the virus in a student or staff member.
The neighboring Northshore School District is now being accused by some of closing too many schools. A parent volunteer at the district's Woodmoor Elementary in Bothell has tested positive for the virus.
The district not only shut down that school, but noting a 20-percent district-wide absentee rate and a teacher in the district being tested, it shut down all its schools for up to 14 days.
Students in the Northshore School District are now doing their learning online from home. Some parents bashed the decision on Facebook.
One parent wrote, "This is completely unnecessary." Another wrote, "Complete overreaction. Families will suffer, and not from COVID-19."
The district Superintendant Dr. Michelle Reid defended the decision Thursday.
"We really want to be thoughtful about a safe and healthy staff or we can`t have safe and healthy classrooms. At that point, I knew we couldn`t safely operate schools," Reid said.
Should schools be closing?
We took the question to the state`s top educator, the Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. He says school superintendents in our state are doing a good job following the science, resisting the fear, and following their public health departments.
With that said, he believes near the outbreak, people are anxious and that hits the school community.
Reykdal said, "I think there's a lot of anxiety in the community for sure and that's a very real factor. The (fear and reality) become the same thing when enough students aren't showing up for school and enough staff doesn`t show up to school."
Ultimately, he says it's up to the superintendents of individual districts to decide whether or not to close their schools.
Reykdal says if districts do cancel school and students can't make up the required learning hours, Gov. Jay Inslee may sign an executive order. He says June 19th is the cut-off date. That means if schools can't make up those hours and days by then, the governor will likely sign that emergency order.