Cory Chase’s children had a “mixed reaction” when they found out that they wouldn’t be going to school for at least the next six weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus.
“Originally they were like, ‘OK, no school, this is cool,’” said Chase, the president of the Washougal School District (WSD) board of directors. “Then reality kind of hit them. They knew that this is a really serious situation — it’s like nothing that they’ve seen during their lifetime. There was a little bit of worry and nervousness that goes along with that.
“They also figured out that they’d have to make up some school days in the summer when they’d rather be out doing other things. They very quickly put two and two together.”
Students, parents, teachers and school district employees in Camas and Washougal are adjusting to what WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton called “a new reality” after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday, March 13 that all public and private K-12 schools in Washington will shutter for at least the next six weeks.
“We understand the challenge this presents to our community and the reality of the pandemic we face,” Camas School District (CSD) Superintendent Jeff Snell wrote in a letter to parents.
Snell said that CSD students in grades 6-12 have access to Chromebooks, but “it will take us a few days to solidify learning engagement plans for all K-12 students.”
“Details will be shared through updates and on our website,” he wrote. “We will be receiving guidance from state leaders about all of the detailed questions that may come to mind. As we receive that guidance, we will share it with (families).”
Snell told the Post-Record that district leaders are trying to extend “the learning that was happening in the classrooms before the closures” for the next two weeks and are “establishing a foundation for how (educators) will engage with students after spring break.”
Athletics and afternoon/evening activities have been canceled for the duration of the shutdown at schools in both cities.
“This is a challenging time for everyone,” Snell wrote. “We care about our community and will be a hub for services in the coming weeks. I am proud to be the superintendent of this wonderful learning community.
“There will be many opportunities in the near future to come together and support each other. Let’s take advantage of those opportunities.”
Templeton said the situation is “unprecedented for all of us in public education.”
“For myself, 25-plus years in education, I have not seen this sort of situation occur,” she said. “We want to make sure the safety for students and staff is our top priority. As we continue down that path, we’ll have new challenges to overcome. This long of a closure is challenging for everybody.”
Templeton said that the district has compiled and posted a collection of enrichment tools that students can access via the district’s website to “stay engaged with learning.” That effort has been assisted by the district’s 1-to-1 Initiative, which promises students access to a tablet or smart device, Templeton added.
“With the way things are right now, life becomes a day-to-day operation,” she said. “But we have excellent community members and families, and we will stay together and move through this and come out the other side and be back to normal. One of the 21st-century skills that we’re teaching students is flexibility. This is a chance for all of us to flex and look at the world differently. With any challenge, I see opportunity.”
Schools, organizations distribute free meals
School district officials throughout the state have been scrambling to ensure that students who receive free or reduced meals during the school day still have access to healthy foods.
CSD is providing free lunches to students in need from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Liberty and Skyridge middle schools.
“From our end, we have prioritized breakfast and lunch services for students who receive free or reduced lunch,” Snell told the Post-Record. “At the governor’s request, we are also trying to provide emergency child care services, building capacity for the children of medical and first responder workers if needed.”
The Washougal School District is providing free breakfasts and lunches to students from 10 a.m. to noon every Monday through Friday until April 24 at Hamllik Park and Hathaway and Cape Horn-Skye elementary schools.
“Keeping students fed is important to us,” Chase said. “Mary and her staff recognized (the problem) right out of the gate and came up with some creative solutions.”
The Washougal Times restaurant is offering lunches for children in need from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The lunch will consist of homemade soup, bread, fruit and a non-perishable snack.
“We don’t know how long we’ll be able to keep it going, but we’ll keep it going for as long as we possibly can,” a post on Washougal Times’ Facebook page states. “We’re all feeling a little powerless right now, but one thing we know we can do is feed the kids who depend on free or reduced school lunches.”
The Camas-Washougal Salvation Army has temporarily suspended its community meal offering, but will serve “to-go” sacks from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at 1612 “I” St., Washougal.
Templeton said that starting on Wednesday, March 16, WSD will begin to provide child-care services for children of medical and first responder workers at Hathaway Elementary School.