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Schools likely to be closed for the rest of the school year, Newsom says

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California public schools are likely to be closed for the remainder of the school year in response to the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday afternoon.

“Don’t anticipate schools are going to open up in a week. Please don’t anticipate in a few weeks,” Newsom said during a Sacramento news conference on the state’s coronavirus efforts. “I would plan, and assume, that it’s unlikely that many of these schools — few, if any — will open before the summer break.”

Nearly all school districts in the state, 98.8%, are closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Newsom said. The state education department is assembling detailed guidelines on how schools can attempt to continue teaching 6.1 million students out of their classrooms in the weeks and months ahead.

The governor later said his comments reflect what he believes will be the challenges across California in the weeks to come, as the coronavirus pandemic changes the daily course of life.

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“I don’t want to mislead you,” he said to parents and educators, who must prepare and plan for their children’s care and learning.

Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the state board of education, put the disruption in perspective.

“We haven’t had this kind of shutdown of civil society or schools since the Spanish influenza in 1918,” she said. “It’s been a century since we saw anything like this. And in that case as well, whole cities had to close down. So the magnitude is enormous.”

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She said this moment calls families and communities to reflect on what they need and care about most.

“School is one thing, but there are going to be people losing their jobs,” she said. “People who need to be able to pay rent, people that need to be able to eat, and we have to be able to take care of that as well.”

All hands in state government, she said, “are stepping up to assist or provide guidance” to school districts, she said.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Tuesday night that Newsom’s comment offers an assessment of the remaining school year with shuttered campuses, but as of now “there is no declaration that school is over for the year.” He said school districts need to be fully prepared to shift their method of instruction.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom says California is too large and its counties are too distinct for a one-size-fits-all approach to the coronavirus.

He added that officials have not yet discussed extending the school year into the summer.

“We’re not going to know exactly what we need to do until we have a sense of how this is all going to go,” Thurmond said.

Newsom, who had sounded a note of criticism toward some school districts on Sunday for closing before they knew how to provide meals and other services, said his administration has now offered those schools additional help in planning for the needs of students.

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”We wanted to make sure that learning is still occurring. Distance learning. Online learning,” Newsom said.

He said the closure issue came up on Monday night with one of his daughters, whom he had to console when arriving at home because she missed her friends at school.

“And I told her, ‘Honey, I don’t think the schools are going to open again.’ And if I could tell my daughter that, and not tell your daughter that, or the people, then I’m not being honest or true to the people of the state of California. Boy, I hope I’m wrong.”

He also indicated that standardized testing will not take place this spring. “We think it is totally inappropriate for kids to worry” about being tested, he said. Teachers and students “already have enough anxiety,” he said.

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The announcement comes as the Los Angeles school district on Tuesday was ramping up “grab and go” food services to help feed more than half a million children displaced by the closing of schools due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Starting on Wednesday, parents and students can pick up food at 60 sites scattered throughout the nation’s second-largest school district. A complete list and map of locations in Los Angeles and information about other resources have been published on the district website.

“These are not ordinary days, and we know many of our students still need help,” said L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner. “So our goal is to help as many as we can.”

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Teachers in most closed schools are trying to continue instruction through online coursework and extended homework assignments. L.A. Unified also has partnered with PBS SoCal to provide expanded educational programming.

Districts have continued classes with online learning and homework packets. But meeting a critical basic need — feeding hungry children — also has been a priority in these first days of closures.

Volunteers will provide up to two packaged meals per person between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. starting on Wednesday.

Beutner said no one would be turned away, whether or not they have a connection to the school system.

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“Our intent is to serve children, but if adults ask, we will offer and we’re going to serve those in need,” Beutner.

All the locations are set up with for both drive-thru and walk-up distribution.

In both lines, the volunteer staff will slide the food across a table toward the person or the open car window, as a method to provide separation or “distancing” between people, thus reducing the chance for spreading the virus. The tables will be covered each day with disposable liners.

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A trial run for workers on Tuesday took place at Liechty Middle School near downtown, where L.A. schools Beutner reviewed the preparations in progress.

A typical breakfast will consist of individual portion-sized box of cereal, unsweetened apple sauce, milk and a piece of fruit, such as an apple, orange or banana. Lunch might have a turkey and cheese sandwich on a roll, sunflower butter, mango juice, carrots, raisins, milk and a piece of fruit.

“Sunflower butter, that’s a new one for me,” Beutner said, during his tour of the distribution station. “Healthy breakfast, healthy lunch. It’s making me kinda hungry actually.”

Organizers don’t want the distribution centers themselves to be a vector for transmitting the coronavirus, which is why they are concerned about how people line up to receive food. Each family will be asked to stand about six feet apart as they await their turn.

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In the walk-up line, “we have staff that will be queuing about every 15 to 20 feet that will be giving them the verbal guidance, reminding them about the different social distancing practices that we’re putting in place,” said Dennis Stecchi, a senior district manager who specializes in logistics and event planning.

“Vehicles already have a natural buffer so we really don’t have to worry about any social distancing,” he added.

Every distribution center will have a hand-wash station and supplies to check the temperature of workers. Because workers are separated from those receiving food, it won’t be necessary to conduct health screenings for those receiving food, Stecchi said.

No advance sign-up is required, so the district does not know how many people will show up for meals. The school district typically serves more than a million meals a day, Beutner said.

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For now, the district will have 400,000 meals available per day, said Dawn Soto, a senior training specialist in the Food Services Division.

Officials have no idea which locations will draw more traffic and they’re prepared to shift the supply as necessary.


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