Jessica Cejnar / Sunday, March 15 @ 1:14 p.m. / Community, Education, Health, Local Government
DNUSD To Close Schools Tomorrow Through April 10 To Prevent COVID-19 Spread
Local schools will be closed starting Monday through April 10 to prevent the spread of COVID-9, the novel coronavirus.
At an emergency meeting Sunday, the Del Norte Unified School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to close schools ahead of its spring break, which is held from April 13-17. Trustees will revisit their decision at its regular meeting March 26.
In the meantime, Superintendent Jeff Harris urged parents to avoid unnecessary travel with their children.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t had severe cases,” he said. “We don’t want people going to places that have and bringing that to our community and compromising our folks.”
However, with nearly 70 percent of its students struggling economically, Harris noted that closing schools could be difficult for them.
As a result, DNUSD’s nutrition services department will be offering breakfast and lunches at local school sites, Director Deborah Kravitz said. Comparing it to the district’s seamless summer food program, Kravitz said her staff could be at school sites between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. so families could pick up a lunch and a “next-day breakfast.”
“We had a thought about using transportation, bus drivers, and having nutrition for those kids that bus in,” she said. “We were concerned about access to their school site.”
Kravitz said Sunday her department has ordered “cases and cases” of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and will set about ordering more food that afternoon.
“It’ll be nothing spectacular, no hot food, but there would be nutrition,” she said.
During the meeting, district officials discussed what the logistics of closing schools would look like with parents, teachers, classified staff and principals. County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina, Crescent City Manager Eric Wier and Del Norte Emergency Services Manager Kymmie Scott also weighed in on steps other agencies were taking to follow state guidelines regarding social distancing.
Harris, who met with school principals, administrators, Sarina and Scott prior to the emergency meeting, said of the roughly 6 million students in California, about 4.5 million are in districts or counties that have shut down their schools to keep the virus from spreading.
Oregon and Washington closed their schools as of Friday, Harris said, as had Los Angeles Unified School District and districts in Orange County.
In Northern California, schools in Napa, Sonoma, Siskiyou and Humboldt counties are closed as of Sunday, Harris told Trustees.
On late Friday afternoon, Governor Gavin Newsom told district superintendents the state of California would fund districts for a full year despite the closures, Harris said. There’s no discussion about extending the school year, Harris said.
Harris said districts are also not mandated to provide childcare or a curriculum, though if it does provide work packets, students wouldn’t be required to do them.
“There’s going to be additional guidance on these things by Tuesday,” he said. “We’re also still looking for guidance on special education.” According to Harris, the federal government is relaxing requirements for special education students to follow their individual education plans, though some advocacy groups are disagreeing with that decision.
Harris’s initial proposal was to close schools starting Wednesday through the end of spring break. Students would return to classes on April 20 after more than four weeks of being off, he said.
This did not go over well with teachers and parents. Special education teacher Victoria Schaub said she is over 60 years old, has a history of asthma and is recovering from bronchitis and pneumonia. Her daughter has a disease that compromises her immune system.
“We have been advised from our physician to be locked down now,” she said. “I work with special needs little kids and this entire two weeks, we had green snot flowing, coughing… Waiting for a case to be identified is reactive. I think we need to be proactive. I don’t think there’s really any choice.”
Amber Tiedeken-Cron, a teacher at Crescent Elk Middle School, said closing school on Wednesday would likely mean two days of chaos leading to the closure. She noted that her colleagues have independent study packets rolled out for the year.
There are also spreadsheet programs with online options, Tiedeken-Cron said. They’re recording lessons and are working on a live-stream option.
Sarina has been working with Scott to address how social distancing and other guidelines related to COVID-19 would look for the county. This includes setting up virtual public meetings and allowing people to use their sick time or to work from home to maintain the social distance guidelines of six feet apart.
Sarina said technology staff are working to set up a program that would allow for public comment via Zoom, email or text messages.
Meanwhile, Scott said, emergency officials are working on getting as many supplies, including personal protective equipment, into the community as they can.
“One of the things that’s a concern for us is overloading the hospital,” she said. “We keep hearing the term ‘flatten the curve.’
That’s super important for our community and the best way we can do that is to be proactive; staying home if you’re sick. That’s why you’re hearing it 30,000 times. Those things are very important.”
Scott noted that there are two silver linings.
“Even though we’re struggling locally, other communities are too,” she said. “The other real silver lining, I think, especially in this setting, is it seems kids can be carriers, but it’s not taking our kids out. Let’s be thankful for that.”
The city is also looking at setting up virtual meetings for the public, especially for Monday’s Crescent City Council meeting, Wier said. There’s also been discussion about closing Petersen Park or the Fred Endert Municipal Pool to follow social distancing guidelines, though a decision hasn’t been made yet, Wier said.
That’s a discussion the City Council will likely take up at its meeting on Monday.
DNUSD’s newest board member, Charlaine Mazzei, who is executive director of the Del Norte County Senior Center, said the senior center will be closed for the rest of the month, though her staff will continue to prepare meals.
“For anyone who would come for our congregate program, we’re asking them to take meals to go,” she said. “We’ll allow provision for people who can’t make transportation work, who can’t leave until the next bus leaves, to be very widely spaced (apart) and dine on site. But the decision has also been made that the minute we have our first confirmed case in the county, that would also be shut down.”
To protect public health and slow the rate of COVID-19 transmission, the California Department of Public Health recommends postponing gatherings of 250 people statewide for the remainder of March. Gatherings of those who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should be limited to no more than 10 people, according to CDPH.
In Del Norte County, three people are under investigation for suspected cases of COVID-19. Test results for five specimens are pending and five have returned negative for the virus, according to the Public Health Branch.
There are 1,629 total COVID-19 cases in the United States and 41 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-six states and Washington DC are reporting cases.
Globally, 142,539 cases of COVID-19 have been reported with 5,393 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.