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States Ordering Schools to Close in Response to Coronavirus

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 12, 2020 4 min read
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For an updated list of states that have closed their schools due to the coronavirus, go here.

Ohio shut down all K-12 schools in the state in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state’s governor announced Thursday, the first state to take such far-reaching action. But it was quickly followed by several other states who shut down schools.

By late Friday March 13, the following states had ordered the shutdown of at least all public K-12 schools in response to the coronavirus, according to official statements and media reports:

  • Alabama
  • Illinois
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington state
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Maryland also joined Ohio in shutting down all public schools for two weeks; on Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said all public schools would shut down from March 16 to March 27, and encouraged private schools to consider taking similar action. And Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Ky., said all public and private schools should close for two weeks starting on March 16; by Friday, all the state’s public schools had reportedly agreed to shut down.

State authorities in New Mexico followed suit Thursday night, announcing that the state’s schools would shut down for three weeks starting Monday, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, announced that evening all schools in the state would close from March 16 to April 5. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, did the same late Thursday—schools there will close statewide from March 16 through March 31.

Also on Thursday, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, was poised to order all public and private schools in three counties (including King County, which encompasses Seattle) to close, the Seattle Times reported.

Subsequently on Friday, Inslee ordered all schools in the state to close, as did Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat; Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat; Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat; Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican; Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Democrat; Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat; West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican; Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat. And Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran ordered all public schools closed on Friday, according to news reports.

The exact length of time schools would close and when the closures would begin varied by state. Rhode Island’s move to close schools consisted of moving its one-week spring period up a week, in order for it to begin March 16.

See: Education Week’s Map of Coronavirus and School Closures

“We have a responsibility to save lives,” DeWine said on Twitter. “We could have waited to close schools, but based on advice from health experts, this is the time to do it.” There are approximately 1.8 million students enrolled in Ohio public schools.

DeWine’s announcement came at roughly the same time as the Ohio health department director’s comments that an estimated 1 percent of people in Ohio, or 117,000, are carrying the coronavirus, although only a handful had been tested as of Thursday afternoon.

The Ohio education department said on Thursday it was in the process of seeking a waiver from U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements in order to make it easier to feed students subsidized school meals in the event of school closures. The Agriculture Department said it had granted such waivers to Washington state, California, Maryland, Alaska, Utah, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Maine, and Kansas.

DeWine did not say whether the state would be seeking waivers from the U.S. Department of Education with respect to the three-week shutdown of schools. We reached out to the Ohio department about such waivers and will update this piece if we hear back.

The Education Department has said it would be issuing guidance to states and schools regarding a number of issues in federal K-12 law concerning the coronavirus, but has yet to do so for things such as testing, accountability, and special education. On March 5, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said her agency had a coronavirus task force in place and was consulting with other federal officials about how to handle the situation.

On March 3, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official told a U.S. Senate committee that schools should aim to “minimize disruption” in dealing with the virus, but outbreaks in Washington state and elsewhere have caused growing concern in the K-12 community.

Photo: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine gives an update last month on the state’s preparedness and education efforts to limit the potential spread of the novel coronavirus. On Thursday, March 12, DeWine announced Ohio was closing schools statewide for an “extended spring break” due to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Follow us on Twitter @PoliticsK12. And follow the Politics K-12 reporters @EvieBlad @Daarel and @AndrewUjifusa.

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