Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island) released the following statement today regarding Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to close public schools in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Wellman serves as chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

“Our number one concern is keeping our students, staff and their families safe. We know many people who attend or work in our schools have compromised immune systems, existing medical conditions, elderly relatives and other concerns. We’re keeping those concerns in mind as we move forward. We’re also taking into account the financial and academic concerns that school closures cause.

In the last several weeks, we’ve been working closely with the Governor’s Office, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and local school districts to anticipate their needs and ensure that we have policies in place to lessen the burdens placed on students and school employees.

As adequate access to healthcare is one of our best tools for addressing this pandemic, we have approved a measure that allows school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the remainder of the school year during the COVID-19 state of emergency, even if the employees would otherwise lose eligibility due to a school closure or changes in school operations. The idea is that all school employees who had insurance prior to this emergency – including hourly employees – will maintain that coverage.

We have also adopted a policy that gives the State Board of Education the authority to establish an emergency waiver program to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on high school graduations. Students who were on track to graduate prior to the governor declaring a state of emergency on Feb. 29 could receive a waiver.

Again, our priority is helping our communities stay healthy. I thank the Governor, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Legislature for taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and taking steps to help our state.”