Dozens of Washington public schools, and at least 10 private schools, shut down in the days since the state became the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak.

State education officials are encouraging schools to stay open — so long as they don’t have a known or possible case — but several opted to close anyway. On Wednesday, Northshore School District officials announced plans to suspend classes at its schools for up to 14 days.

As local districts make tough decisions about closing, and for how long, families and educators are heading to online forums to swap information and opinions. Many are asking the same questions.

Wondering what to do if your child’s school closes? Are you worried about finding childcare? Below is guidance from government and health officials, as well as local resources, to help you navigate some of the most common questions facing families. If you have more questions for us, you can submit them below. You can also read the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s guide here.

What should I do if I think my child is sick?

The novel coronavirus has mostly spared children from its worst symptoms, though new research out this week hints that they may be just as likely as adults to get infected. Scientists are still learning how the virus spreads, but there is reason to think that children are capable of passing the virus to others.


Public health officials recommend that you call your doctor if you or your child feel ill and have symptoms such as a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat or fever. Make sure your child practices good hygiene by coughing into their sleeve, washing their hands regularly and throwing used tissues in the trash.

State law requires schools to excuse student absences when children are sick, so if your child is sick, they should not go to school.

Where can I find out if my child’s school is closed? 

Monitor your school district’s social media accounts or website. Some districts and schools that have closed have made phone calls or sent emails to families.

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has a running list of school closures, which you can find here. This tracker is updated often, so keep checking back if your school or district isn’t on the list.

Several media outlets, including The Seattle Times, are keeping a close watch on school closures, too.


If school closes, will my child make up missed days at the end of the year?

That depends. Some schools, such as those in the Northshore School District, are attempting to keep kids from falling behind by distributing laptops and other devices, and sending assignments online. But not every school district is tech-friendly, or has the ability to offer distance learning. And on Thursday, the state’s superintendent Chris Rekydal told MSNBC that he is encouraging schools to make up class time at the end of the school year instead of trying to offer classwork online.

“Essentially what we’re telling districts is: do everything you would normally do to make up missed days, such as changing half-days to full-days and canceling scheduled vacation days, and then extend your school year to at least June 19,” Katy Payne, a spokesperson for OSPI, wrote in an email. “If you’ve gone through June 19 and you still have some hours [or] days to make up, we will waive them.

Any tips for talking with my child about the novel coronavirus?

Local experts suggest that adults be good listeners, stick to facts they know are true, and keep regular routines at home or at school. For more advice, check out our guide to talking with kids about the virus.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

What resources are available if my child’s school closes?

School closures can potentially have deep and inequitable effects on school communities. Working parents who can’t take time off to stay at home are particularly hard hit. So are families that qualify for free or reduced lunch, and rely on school to provide meals for their children.

OSPI officials haven’t yet said whether they’ll help parents meet these needs, but they say they plan to release a parent resource guide on Friday. We’ll add a link when it becomes available.

In Northshore, parent volunteers are finding ways to support families through online fundraisers and emergency childcare Facebook groups. Claudine Miller, whose sons attend Frank Love Elementary in Northshore, has compiled a list of food and emergency assistance providers in her school community. Several Frank Love families are expected to receive bags of food — enough to last at least a few days — when they pick up their child’s laptop and other supplies from school on Thursday and Friday, Miller said.