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All Seattle Public Schools closed for at least two weeks starting Thursday due to coronavirus outbreak

caption: Seattle Public School Superintendent Denise Juneau sits with Chief Human Resources Officer Clover Codd on stage during a public meeting on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Garfield High School in Seattle.
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Seattle Public School Superintendent Denise Juneau sits with Chief Human Resources Officer Clover Codd on stage during a public meeting on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Garfield High School in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau and the Seattle School Board ordered all schools in the district closed beginning Thursday after the first known confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported Tuesday, shuttering Aki Kurose Middle School indefinitely.

The closure of schools in Washington state's largest district comes amid a growing call from staff, parents, and students to close schools to slow the coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle area. "This necessary action is an effective way to disrupt widespread infection," reads an email from the district's public affairs office to families.

"The decision to close the district was extremely difficult. We know that closing our schools will impact our most vulnerable families and we recognize that working families depend on the consistency and predictability of supports and services our schools offer," the district wrote.

"We also recognize there are still a lot of unknowns about this disease and just how prevalent it is in our community," the email reads. "While children appear to be more protected from extreme symptoms, adults, including our educators and employees, need support and protection as well."

"The decision to close for a minimum of 14 calendar days follows guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," said a district news release, which also cited the "urgent directives" announced today by Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

"Governor Inslee’s directives focus on social distancing, which includes limiting gatherings of 250 people or more. Because of the size of virtually every SPS school’s student population, SPS cannot meet those limits and continue to effectively operate," the news release read.

School leaders received calls and emails Wednesday morning to prepare for their schools' closure.

"Mentally, we want you to treat this as if your building was about to go on spring break," wrote Mike Starosky, Executive Director of Schools, and Wyeth Jessee, Chief of Schools and Continuous Improvement in an email to school administrators.

"The details of human resources, special education family communication, school cleaning, food services for students, potential re-opening dates, budgeting, evaluations, assessments, graduations, scheduling, hiring etc. will be addressed at a later date," Starosky and Jessee wrote.

Students and staff at Franklin High School called in sick or walked out this morning in protest that their school was being left open after a staff member was reportedly exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case. The district said it disinfected Franklin, Mercer Middle School, and Rainier Beach High School overnight, and Cleveland STEM High School Wednesday due to possible virus exposures.

But Franklin students questioned whether it was possible to clean the entire school thoroughly enough to prevent infection - and said it was likely that numerous students in the large high school were unknowingly carrying the virus and would spread it to others despite a school disinfection process.

Superintendent Juneau has for days said that the district is following the guidance of Public Health - Seattle & King County regarding when to leave schools open and when to close them. She had cited equity concerns as a major reason to leave schools open, because many low-income children rely on services like free school breakfast and lunch.

The district plans to offer emergency food to students who need it beginning Monday, March 16th. At Aki Kurose today, students were able to pick up sack lunches outside the school midday.

"It is in times like these that our community values become visible. Please take care of each other. Reach out to neighbors and lend a hand to those in need. We will get through this, but it will require all of us thinking creatively and continuing to support our community’s children," reads the district's email to families.

Parents in the district have already started a Facebook group to do just that. The SPS COVID 19 School Closure Parent Survival Page is billed as a place to share information and resources about child care, other wrap-around services, and homework while schools are shut down.

District headquarters will remain open during the school closure.

This is a breaking story and this information will be updated.

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