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San Diego Unified Officials Detail Plans For School Closures To Stem Coronavirus

San Diego education officials announce closures in wake of coronavirus pandem...

Photo by Joe Hong

Above: San Diego education officials announce closures in wake of coronavirus pandemic, March 13, 2020.

In a reversal, the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) announced Friday the temporary closing of all 220 of its schools as of Monday in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Most schools are scheduled to reopen April 6, after spring break.

The call to close the school was not taken lightly, said SDUSD board member Richard Barrera. “We have the responsibility with every individual to do our part to slow the spread of the virus,” he said. “‘Flatten the curve,’ as people talk about it.”

At this time, no SD Unified students have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Barrera said the district will continue to provide meals for students who are on free or reduced-cost meals.

Meals will be available at eight schools sites:

— Clark Middle School

— Cherokee Point Elementary School

— Sherman Elementary School

— Zamorano Fine Arts Academy

— Kearny High School

— O'Farrell Charter School

— Walker Elementary School

— Farb Middle School

The district is able to provide 1,600 students with breakfast and lunch each day. Additionally, Feeding San Diego and San Diego Food Bank will provide fresh fruit and vegetables at these pick up locations.

The meals will be served on a drive-through basis and families are strongly encouraged to take them home to eat. Among the options are caesar salads and hummus. School officials said they will add or delete feeding sites based on need.

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Andi Dukleth

RELATED: Coronavirus School Closures In San Diego County In One Simple Chart

School leaders are also encouraging students to stay active while not at school, but advised against taking children to parks or other public areas.

“The purpose of the closure is to keep children from passing viruses to one another by limiting the number of people who interact in close proximity,” said Dr. Howard Taras, a consulting physician for the district. “It doesn't make sense to have children go out to the playground, movie theaters, parties where they congregate with other children in close proximity. It defeats the purpose.”

The district will also make available access to materials for learning.

Because the district’s spring break falls within the initial three-week closure period, most students will miss two weeks of instruction. District officials said it will post activities students can do at home to its website. They said students should take all their textbooks home with them on Friday.

For parents who still have to work while the schools are closed, Taras does not recommend having grandparents or other elderly people watch their children.

“The older generations are bearing the brunt of serious complications,” he said. “If you have older caretakers, the more reason for kids not to be playing around in public.”

The announcement came less than 24 hours after the district sent a letter to parents saying schools will stay open for the time being. The change came after district officials consulted with their counterparts in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The districts, which are the two largest in the state, serve a combined 750,000 students.

SD Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten and LA Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner spoke by phone Friday morning and later issued the following joint statement:

“California has now entered a critical new phase in the fight to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said. “There is evidence the virus is already present in the communities we serve, and our efforts now must be aimed at preventing its spread.”

The announcement was welcome news to the San Diego Education Association, the district’s teachers union, which on Thursday called for schools to be closed. Teachers and other staff had grown concerned as state and county health officials were urging social distancing measures, such as limiting gatherings to less than 250 people.

“We were hearing the advisories around keeping kids safe and we’re finding that we didn’t have the resources or the ability to do those things,” said Kisha Borden, the president of the San Diego Education Association.

As of Friday morning, Borden said teachers had not received any guidance from the district about plans for online learning.

“I feel like it cannot be just online learning because all of our families do not have access to computers or internet,” Borden said. “ In order for it to be equitable to all of our students, we can’t rely on online learning.”

It’s still unclear how this closure will impact the conclusion of the school year.

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