By ADAM BEAM and DON THOMPSON
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s assessment that it’s likely “few if any” California schools will reopen before summer break surprised parents, who wondered Wednesday how distance learning would work.
Santa Monica schools are closed through April 20 and local officials said they have no immediate plans to cancel the remainder of the year.
“Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati and our school board are taking Gov Newsom’s comments seriously,” said SMMUSD Community & Public Relations Officer Gail Pinsker. “We are currently closed for five weeks and continue to evaluate the situation with the guidance of local, regional and state health and government officials. We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”
Newsom said Tuesday that nearly 99% of the state’s K-12 schools are shuttered for periods generally ranging from two to five weeks.
“It is unlikely that many of these schools, few if any, will open before the summer break,” he said, urging the more than 6 million schoolchildren and their families to make long-term plans.
David De Leon, whose son is an 8th-grader in Santa Ana, said he was shocked by the announcement.
“I don’t know if it’s viable,” De Leon said. “To throw it out for everyone to use until the end of the school year I think is unreasonable.”
Before his son’s school shut down, he was told to take all his schoolbooks and school-assigned Chromebook home. For now, teachers are suggesting that kids use certain academic programs until they can develop a distance learning curriculum, he said.
In Los Angeles, Filiberto Gonzalez, 45, said his three children have been in touch daily with their teachers and have an hour to four hours per day of work they can do on an existing online platform that supplemented classes. But the prospect of moving to an entirely online system raises a slew of challenges few were expecting.
“This whole process started with OK, we’re going to be away from school for two weeks, take this material with you, here’s a Chromebook,” he said. “The news that came yesterday was a real shock to a lot of us.”
Some parents are making their children get up at the same hour as if they are in school and have a scheduled day of online learning. Others are taking advantage of the online resources provided by school districts, like “Skype with a scientist” offered by the San Diego Unified School District, and virtual tours through museums worldwide.
San Diego high school teacher Elena Lujan-Alba said her 10th grade daughter is missing out on testing for Advanced Placement classes. But Lujan-Alba, whose husband is a math consultant for schools, is not as worried about keeping their two daughters up with academics as much as she is about their social activities.
“We try to manage the kids’ expectations. I tell them, ‘Guys you know that probably won’t happen,’ to prepare them mentally. Then it’s like OK, that’s not happening. It’s like stages of grief, of letting go,” Lujan-Alba said.
Closures are impacting schools up and down the educational ladder.
In a special meeting held on March 17, the Santa Monica College (SMC) Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution that declared a state of local emergency at the college. The passage of the resolution authorized SMC Superintendent/President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery to take actions necessary in response to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.
“This board resolution will help streamline the decision-making process at Santa Monica College, under the leadership of Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery. I commend the steps she and senior administration have taken, proactively, to limit the possible transmission of COVID-19 at SMC,” said Dr. Nancy Greenstein, Board Chair. “There is nothing more important to each member of this board, than the wellbeing of the college’s students and employees. This is a creative and resilient community. The steps that are being taken allow the college to continue delivering on its mission, which includes providing ‘a safe, inclusive, and dynamic learning environment,’ and this goes on in a remotely accessible environment.”
Among several other provisions, the SMC board resolution authorizes Superintendent/President Jeffery to take actions necessary to ensure the continuation of educational services, enter into memorandums of understanding with employee organizations for the provision of leaves of absence with pay to employees impacted by COVID-19, and negotiate temporary rent/facility use fee reductions or suspensions with food service vendors on campus.
As of March 18, all SMC classes and support services have moved to a remotely accessible environment. The college’s main campus on 1900 Pico Blvd. and all five satellite campuses are closed to the general public.
The California Department of Public Health said Wednesday the state now has 13 deaths related to the coronavirus and 598 confirmed cases. More than 11,900 people are self-monitoring after returning from overseas.
While urging Californians to stay united and promising “we will get back to the life that we have lived,” Newsom also acknowledged that much is unknown and so the state is preparing for frightening worst-case scenarios.
Matthew Hall contributed to this report