On Tuesday, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced that all public schools in California will be closed through the end of the school year.
Closed buildings, open schools
School buildings will remain closed because of COVID-19 coronavirus social distancing guidelines, as the six foot distancing rule would be impossible to enforce in such a dense area. While private schools and higher education facilities are not covered under the state Superintendent, concerns of coronavirus spread have also halted those in the state.
Instead, California will do what few states are currently doing and continue on with statewide distance learning rather than shutting down with no substitution. While there are some issues with the lack of internet and computers being available, especially for students who cannot afford them, the state will continue to use distance learning to avoid as much lost class time as possible.
“Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year,” said State Superintendent Thurmond in a letter to county superintendents. “This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year, but rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through distance learning.”
“They want the ability to have stability and to be able to plan for the rest of the school year, and they are asking me for some signal about how to prepare for that.”
County and teacher response
The California Department of Education will also be working with schools throughout the rest of the year to provide additional materials for students who are learning remotely and to train teachers on teaching remotely.
Thurmond released the letter Tuesday largely in response to many counties and school districts demanding a definite date on closings. In the past few weeks, school districts across California have come up with a variety of dates to return to the classroom, such as many Bay Area counties agreeing on a May 1st date. But due to the scale of the pandemic and the measures needed to disinfect schools and prevent any possible recurrence of COVID-19 from spreading, the rest of the school year closure was announced.
“It makes total sense,” said Humboldt County teacher Elena Mackenzie. “None of the other teachers at my school, or the district really, like to teach remotely, as having a classroom works so much better. But if it’s either that or risking your students to a strong disease like coronavirus, we need to side with safety.”
Other teachers agreed.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to teaching by webcam or through e-mails like this,” stressed Riverside County teacher Barbara Pataki. “But it’s for public safety. One person gets it here, everyone does. Anyone who has ever worked in a school knows this. We just know when cold and flu season is.”
“If it has to be the end of the year, so be it.”
While Superintendent Thurmond noted the upcoming hardships, he also did hint at a possible, if unlikely, return for classes in school buildings at the end of the school year.
Governor Gavin Newsom also seconded what Thurmond had written in a press conference later on Tuesday, expressing that distance learning was the way to go and that many states were copying California’s remote learning measures.
An announcement regarding senior graduation and summer school plans are expected in the coming months.