BOTHELL — Just days ago, the Northshore School District was the only district in the state providing meals for students stuck at home as the coronavirus outbreak shuttered classrooms.
Now it’s a requirement for all schools in Washington.
On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered every school in the state to close through April 24. President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency less than two hours earlier.
All districts now must provide students with free meals while school is out, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Some local districts are finding creative ways to make that happen.
As of Friday evening, there were 568 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 37 fatalities in the state. Of those, 133 cases involved Snohomish County residents, including four deaths.
Last week, Northshore became the first public school district in the state to temporarily close because of coronavirus concerns, and started to provide meals soon after.
Northshore’s director of food service, Juliana Fisher, received about 250 lunch orders on Friday. That’s out of almost 24,000 students district-wide, and about 3,000 who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
It’s the largest district in Snohomish County, and serves students in King County as well.
“The service is available to everyone,” Fisher said. “But only having a couple of hundred meals obviously shows us that not everybody is participating, and we’re trying to figure out why that is and how we can change it to meet more needs.”
The district is working to change some of its pick-up locations to reach more families. Food may eventually be delivered to neighborhoods.
Workers have been packing up meals in brown paper bags, then delivering them to 17 different schools for pick-up. Home delivery is available by request.
Orders can be placed on the school’s website between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. Students must be present to pick up their meal, between 10:45 a.m. and noon.
There wasn’t much guidance in creating a plan. “We’re kind of the pioneers on this,” Fisher said.
As other districts begin to close, she’s received lots of requests for advice. Some have been in different parts of the country, such as Florida, Georgia and California, she said.
Closer to home, each district will have its own approach to provide a breakfast and a hot lunch once schools close. They’re required to be finished by Tuesday.
About 139,500 students are enrolled in Snohomish County schools.
Everett Public Schools expects to provide meals at 28 pick-up sites between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., but an exact schedule is still being worked out. The district also is thinking about stopping by apartment complexes.
Lunch orders must be completed online the day before, between 2 and 11:30 p.m. That process will open Sunday. Requests can be made for all children under 18, whether they go to the schools or not. Students must be present to claim their meals.
Marysville families can go to any school in that district between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Meals are available for all children under 18 there, too.
The district has also put together a survey to get an estimate of how many families will need child care or food deliveries, and how many have access to a computer and the Internet.
A link to the questionnaire has been sent to families, but can also be found on the district’s website. It’s available until Monday.
In Lakewood, Superintendent Scott Peacock said the plan is to make deliveries using school buses which will run the regular routes and stop at most of the usual spots. Where one is too near a busy intersection, it will be moved to a safer location nearby, he said.
“We want to do that to prevent large gatherings,” he said. However, a central location will be chosen for those who cannot get to a bus stop.
Each delivery will include food for both meals, he said. They will be made in late morning. A schedule will be available no later than Monday.
This method will assure bus drivers and food service employees can continue working. Plus, paraeducators are going to come in and assist in preparing the meals.
The Sultan School District is putting together a similar approach.
Each day, between roughly 10 a.m. and noon, food for the meals will be available for pick up at Gold Bar Elementary and Sultan Middle School. Superintendent Dan Chaplik described this as a sort-of “grab-and-go” for students who live nearby.
They intend to consolidate bus routes into about 13 stops. At each one, buses will pull up and a student can pick up food for their meals. Deliveries will start around 10 a.m.. It will be similar to summer school lunch procedures, he explained.
In Darrington, one of the smaller districts in the county, with 454 students, Superintendent Buck Marsh said they would release final details to parents Monday.
In Lake Stevens, any child 18 or younger can get food between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Lake Stevens Middle School and North Lake Middle School.
Staff are set up to hand out food in a drive-thru system. Walk-ups are also welcome. Students must be present to receive a meal. No adult meals are available. The district is looking into options for delivering meals, according to its website.
The Mukilteo School District also plans to serve grab-and-go meals, between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at four different schools, communications manager Diane Bradford said.
Starting Monday food will be available at Mariner High School, as well as Challenger, Horizon and Odyssey elementary schools. Meals are available to anyone 18 or under, including students outside of the Mukilteo School District.
“Our focus is taking care of the daily needs of students, that’s why meals were number one on our list and childcare is next,” Bradford said.
Check school district websites for the most up-to-date information.
Herald reporters Jerry Cornfield and Julia-Grace Sanders contributed.
Correction: An earlier version had an incorrect location for children to get food in Lake Stevens. They can do so at Lake Stevens and North Lake middle schools.