Tenino, Rainier and Yelm Schools to Close Through April 24 to Help Slow COVID-19 Spread

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Schools in Yelm, Tenino and Rainier will all close through April 24 as part of a unified approach with other Thurston County school districts to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to statements from each district.

The closures, which begin Monday, come after Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all public and private schools in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to close beginning Monday.

“Thurston County superintendents met early this morning and have agreed to a unified approach around school closure,” a letter from Yelm Community Schools reads. “Starting Monday, March 16, our schools will close through Friday, April 24, 2020. Public health officials have advised us that a sustained closure can help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Staff at each of the districts are expected to have further guidance from administrators before the end of the day.

“We wanted to get the message about school closure out to you as soon as possible,” the letter from Yelm Community Schools states. “We are currently in the process of developing district plans to support students with non-educational services as requested by the Governor and OSPI. Further communication regarding these services will be forthcoming”

Yelm Superintendent Brian Wharton said the district is working quickly to bring services to families as the school prepares to close.

Yelm schools are currently looking at options to deliver meals to students that qualify for free and reduced lunch, and the district will also be working with the state to work out daycare services for children of healthcare workers and first responders.

“We know that all the economic slowdown is going to have a big impact on our families. But right now, it’s about trying to figure out how we can help them,” Wharton said. “We’re just really trying to emphasize that things are going to be different for a while. We’re going to move through these things as best as we can and do the best we can for our families.”

The school district recommends that residents continue to follow existing guidelines to protect their health.

“We recognize that this disruption in our normal school year has an impact on our students, our families and our staff,” the Yelm district wrote. “We know that this exceptional moment has prompted lots of conversation and questions which we will address in the coming days. We want to express our appreciation of your patience as we work through the daily challenges COVID-19 has presented to all of us.”

The Tenino and Rainier school districts announced the news in similar fashion.

“As you know, we are facing an unprecedented public health crisis in our state and world,” Tenino Superintendent Joe Belmonte wrote in an open letter. “We have kept our schools open as long as possible, as recommended by state and local public health authorities. We know that in addition to education, schools provide vital support to our communities and that closure will have a major impact on our families.”

According to Belmonte’s letter, Monday and Tuesday March 16 and 17, school office staff will be available to help families who need to pick up medication and personal items.

“We are currently in the process of developing district plans to support students with non-educational services as requested by the Governor and OSPI,” he wrote. “Further communication regarding these services will be forthcoming.”

Belmonte said the Tenino School District will provide regular updates to the staff, students, parents and community via Skyward email, district and school websites and social media. This will include regular updates from local and state health officials.

“We recognize that this disruption in our normal school year has an impact on our students, our families and our staff,” Belmonte wrote. “Thank you for your support and patience as we work together as a community to focus on public health.”

Rainier Superintendent Bryon Bahr wrote in a letter to district staff and residents that beginning Monday all staff access to the schools will be limited to essential staff needed to ensure business operations.

“Friday is the last day of school for the foreseeable future,” Bahr wrote. “We are allowing students to collect learning materials and personal items they might need while schools are closed. Our educators are speaking with students today about this closure.”

He said the district is finalizing plans to support families by providing meals to students, providing packets for elementary students, and making sure access to Google Classroom is available.”

The district encourages students to read at least one hour a day during the closure.

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