Schools work to provide food to students during closures
— Created March 18, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
Before the announcement of the closure of restaurants and many other businesses, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced schools across the state are to be closed through April 24, in hopes of containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The mandated closure has parents scrambling to make arrangements for their children’s care and districts are scrambling to figure things out, too. One of the most important issues is making sure students who rely on getting meals at school to help meet their nutritional requirements can continue to do so.
“Our first priority is meeting the basic needs of students and families,” said Conor Laffey, communication officer for Oak Harbor Public Schools. “Starting Tuesday, March 17, we will be serving free “grab and go” breakfasts and lunches for any and all students at the following locations:
473 SW Fairhaven Drive, Oak Harbor
Crescent Harbor Elementary
350 E Crescent Harbor Road, Oak Harbor
380 NE Regatta Drive, Oak Harbor
“Families may pick up both meals Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., along with additional learning resources for pickup throughout the closure at each of these sites,” Laffey continued. “At this time, students must be visible to pick up breakfast and lunch, but we’re awaiting further guidance. By next week, we plan to have buses delivering food and curriculum to additional areas in our community for families with transportation issues. We are committed to making sure students are fed during these trying times.”
The Coupeville School District began a similar ‘Grab n’ Go’ free lunch program Tuesday as well. All kids 18 years and younger can pick up food between 10 and 11 a.m. Monday through Friday at the Coupeville High School Commons. Students do not need to be enrolled in Coupeville Schools to participate, but they must be present to pick up a meal.
South Whidbey School District will have a meal program in place Monday. More information will be available online at sw.wednet.edu.
Childcare is another pressing issue for working families. There are agencies on Whidbey Island that will be helping with that, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oak Harbor and Coupeville, which are offering reduced rates during the school closures. OHPS will offer limited childcare services for healthcare workers and first responders.
“Per the governor’s order, we will offer limited child care for families who are considered essential employees in the healthcare industry and first responders,” said Laffey. “To minimize the spread of disease, we strongly encourage families to find alternative methods and only use this resource if absolutely necessary. If you need this service, please call our dedicated hotline at 360-279-5040. For families who do not fall in this category, we urge you to offer support to family, friends and neighbors to make sure those who need childcare receive it. We know that at this time the Boys and Girls Club, Their Place, and several other childcare providers plan to remain open.”
According to Laffey, all regular OHPS employees and long term subs will continue to be paid throughout the closure. In addition, state lawmakers are helping ensure seniors will still be able to graduate.
“The legislature took action to give the State Board of Education the flexibility to waive graduation requirements as needed,” he said. “We have been told that there will be flexibility and accommodations to allow our students in the Class of 2020 to graduate on time. But, we don’t have all of the details yet. Graduation is still scheduled for Saturday, June 13.”
OHPS is also working to provide learning options for students, although any work completed during the closure will not be graded.
Finally, Laffey said the school district is also hoping to give parents the tools to handle some of the emotional stresses that may accompany the closures.
“This time will be hard on our students’ social and emotional wellbeing,” he said. “As more information is learned and shared about the spread of COVID-19 (novel Coronavirus), you may notice your child experiencing a wider range of emotions such as worry and fear. Some children might also experience sadness and frustration at not being able to interact with their friends and school staff regularly. There are many steps you can take to support your child during these uncertain times.”
Laffey provided the following list of recommendations and resources for parents:
- Reassure your child that what they are feeling is normal.
- Make time to talk with your child about their feelings and questions.
- Take children on hikes, bike rides, walks on the beach and other healthy activities to keep them physically active and outdoors when possible.
- Play board games, listen to music, dance, play musical instruments, do art projects, garden and engage socially as a family.
- Limit screen time and access to social media.
- Pay attention to how long and what your child is watching and reading.
- Model positive self-care strategies; your child is learning how to manage their emotions from the caring adults in their life.
- Provide honest, age-appropriate information and avoid sharing assumptions about who is sick with COVID-19.
- Work with your child to develop a consistent “new” daily routine; samples will be provided early next week.
- Public Health’s Guidelines for gatherings of children and youth while schools are closed: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/communicable-diseases/disease-control/novel-coronavirus/schools/closures.aspx
- Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019: Messages for parents, school staff, and others working with children: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html
- Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html
- Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/28/809580453/just-for-kids-a-comic-exploring-the-new-coronavirus
- Talking to Kids About COVID-19: https://medium.com/wadepthealth/talking-to-kids-about-covid-19-a909585b93bf
Remember to check your child’s district website for updates, and practice patience.
“Most of us have never experienced this level of life disruption,” said Laffey. “Small moments of grace and support will go a long way as we navigate our collective response to COVID-19.”