Officials for San Diego County’s 43 school districts all made the agonizing decision Friday to close schools across the entire region, knowing that many students may go without food or care and that many will fall behind in their learning.
The logistics surrounding the roughly 500,000 students who attend school Monday through Friday in the county are largely taken for granted; school districts are having to come up with detailed and unprecedented plans that address everything from online learning to health and hunger.
Here’s what we know as of Friday afternoon about San Diego Unified School District’s closure plans:
San Diego Unified, the second largest school district in the state, will remain closed through the end of Spring Break, until April 6. Board trustee Richard Barrera told me the decision of whether to re-open schools at that time will likely be no less difficult than the decision to close Friday. Some districts have already decided to stay closed longer. The San Diego County Office of Education’s webpage will likely continue to update information on school closures.
The district will use eight schools as food pick-up centers starting Monday. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., families will be able to pick up lunch (and breakfast for the next day) at a drive-through at each site. Kearny High, Clark Middle, Farb Middle, Cherokee Point Elementary, Sherman Elementary, Zamorano Elementary, Walker Elementary and O’Farrell Charter will serve as the pick-up sites. District officials say they’ll have 1,600 meals ready on Friday – even though roughly 60,000 students districtwide receive free or reduced-price lunch. It’s hard to know how many people may show up for the meals and the district should be able to produce many more without trouble, said Barrera. Here’s a link to San Diego Unified’s webpage with information related to closures.
Some school police will continue to work. They will be stationed at each of the food distribution schools.
Principals have been told not to distribute tablets or computers to their students. This runs counter to decisions made by Los Angeles Unified and West Contra Costa Unified district officials, who have sent many students home with devices, according to EdSource. I asked Superintendent Cindy Marten why they made the decision not to promote more online learning through sending home the devices. She said because the district doesn’t have enough laptops for everyone, some students would get left out. She thought it would create more inequity by giving some, instead of all students, devices.
Teachers across the district were furiously printing out work packets to send home with their students on Friday. Anthony DeLuca, principal of Rolando Park Elementary, told me that he is trying to drive home a firm message to his parents: “This is not a vacation. Limit video games. Make sure they are reading and practicing math every day. Make sure they’re writing. It isn’t playtime.” Rolando Park is a school with relatively high percentages of poverty that tends to perform much better academically than other peer schools. DeLuca seemed anxious about how much his students might fall behind over this protracted break and said he and his teachers would have lots of conversations about how to pick up the pace once school is back in session.
The work teachers are printing out is considered “enrichment,” rather than actual assignments, Marten said at a Friday press conference. That means it isn’t mandatory and teachers won’t grade it. District officials – led by the district’s instructional support officer Wendy Ranck-Buhr – are creating a set of lessons to upload to the district’s website by Monday.
Los Angeles Unified and San Francisco Unified have announced plans to partner with their local PBS stations, which will air educational programming during the school closures, according to EdSource. The PBS stations will air different age-appropriate segments for students and the districts may come up with assignments to mirror the programming. Marten said that such a partnership may also be forthcoming with KPBS, the local PBS affiliate.
Select personnel, like principals and custodial staff, will be able to access school sites during the closure.
State reading and math tests, known as the Smarter Balanced assessments, will likely get put on hold, said Barrera. Schools on a traditional calendar take the tests in April and year-round schools take them later in the year. “How can you possibly do the tests on time?” Barrera said. The tests may even be cancelled altogether, he said, if state officials believe there is no way to give a fair test, given all the lost learning time.
Some special education students with Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, who receive medical or other services from the district may have that service interrupted.
All after-school events and services are also canceled.
The district will continue to communicate with parents using social media and its email listserv. Barrera said roughly 100,000 people are signed up to receive the district’s email communications. It’s a promising number, since San Diego Unified serves roughly 100,000 students.
Barrera said the district will try to make sure that substitute teachers who have their assignments canceled will still get paid. But he said it’s still under discussion.
For now, the district and state have no plans to add days to the school year to make up for the lost time.
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