San Francisco, Bay Area schools extend closures until May

Distance learning still under development as coronavirus cases rise

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, Bay Area schools will remain closed another month to limit the spread, officials said Wednesday.

The San Francisco Unified School District, along with districts in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Marin, will not reopen until May 1. The City’s schools were originally slated to reopen April 6.

“The safety and wellness of our students, school personnel, and the community are our highest priority right now,” said Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews in a statement. “In consultation with public health officials across six counties in the Bay Area, we have decided to extend school closures for the health of the Bay Area. Families need to continue to shelter in place across the region in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19 to the greatest extent possible.”

The district has continued to provide meals for families with children 18 or younger at 20 pick-up sites. Rec and Park is also providing child care at its facilities for health care and frontline workers.

San Francisco educators and officials have used the closure to set up distance learning by sending out laptops and other devices first to unhoused kids, children in foster care, and students with special needs. Hotspots are also being created throughout the city to provide internet to those who don’t have it, said San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner Gabriela Lopez.

Distance learning will begin by April 13, according to SFUSD.

“We had to make sure we didn’t launch anything without everyone being ready,” Lopez said. “Equity has been a big piece of our work, it’s been guiding our work.”

At a teleconference meeting Tuesday, school board members discussed opening a hotline for parents with questions, expanding available languages for digital materials, and exploring video communications. As the district develops a distance learning strategy, members are mindful that it could be needed down the line for a different crisis.

Parent Robin Dutton-Cookston said she has found the deluge of well-meaning resources exhausting as she works from home with her husband and three children — one in high school, one in middle school, and one in first grade in the district. The older two have been self-sufficient, but the youngest one requires attention and help to access assignments and keep occupied.

The extension of the school closure isn’t surprising to Dutton-Cookston, but it is overwhelming, and a closure for the remainder of the school year would be difficult.

“I feel like we’re just going to have to take it one day at a time,” Dutton-Cookston said. “It’s been a big burden on parents to think that we’re going to have to have kids keep up with grade-level instruction.”

Reminders that assignments and resources have been suggested, not required, have been helpful to Dutton-Cookston as her family prioritizes emotional care during the crisis. She is also concerned about other families that are more preoccupied with how to pay rent or buy food, and who may not have internet or computer access to keep their children as connected to educational acitivity given by teachers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated last week that schools probably wouldn’t reopen for the rest of the school year, though that wasn’t an official school or public health position. But with the Bay Area leading the state on shelter in place policies and practices, it could be a matter of days before other schools follow.

“We had this hope, almost, that things would go back to normal,” Lopez said. “Every day that was becoming clear that we were heading in a different direction.”

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