As of March 12, almost 377 million students around the world were out of school because of COVID-19. That’s according to the United Nations (U.N.). Schools have closed because of health emergencies before, the U.N. points out. But it says the “global scale and speed of the current educational disruption [are] unparalleled.”
So far, 46 countries on four continents have closed schools or announced plans to. Twenty-six countries, including China, Iran, and Italy, have closed all schools. They are experiencing severe COVID-19 outbreaks. China has been hit hardest. There, more than 233 million students are out of school.
In the United States, individual schools and districts are deciding what actions to take. At press time, only a few had closed. Others are likely to follow. Many districts see closures as a last resort. That’s because schools provide much more than education. Often, students depend on them for meals and after-school programs.
“We would only consider closing any particular school for very specific reasons and for as brief a period of time as possible,” Bill de Blasio told the New York Times on March 9. He’s the mayor of New York City. The school district is the country’s largest, with more than a million students.
On March 11, the Seattle public school district, in Washington State, said it would close for two weeks. “Closing schools is the last thing we ever want to do,” wrote superintendent Denise Juneau in a statement. “But . . . this is an unprecedented situation.”
Schools are turning to online lessons to make sure learning can continue during closures. The Northshore School District, also in Washington State, closed its schools on March 5, for up to 14 days. “We are simply trying to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Michelle Reid wrote in a letter to families. She’s the district superintendent. Learning will “transition from the classroom to the cloud,” she added. Reid says the district will loan computers to students who need them. She says the district also plans to provide meals for students and childcare assistance for parents and guardians.
In Chester County, Pennsylvania, Malvern Preparatory School is open. But it’s training its staff to teach virtually, just in case. “We hope not to close school for any length of time,” wrote Donald Reilly, the head of the school, in a letter to students and staff. “However, we feel it is best to be prepared.”
This story appears in the March 20, 2020, print edition of TIME for Kids. It was published online on the afternoon of March 12. It has not been updated.