Bay Area school officials on Wednesday said campuses will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
The San Francisco Unified School District joined districts in Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, and Marin in ordering schools to remain closed for the remainder of the instructional year ending June 2. School officials had already extended the campus closures to May 1 in late March before health officials lengthened the shelter-in-place to May 3 nearly a week later.
“I want to be clear: the 2019-2020 school year has not ended,” said SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews. “Learning will continue to the greatest extent possible through both digital and non-digital interactive teacher-led learning. When school sites re-open, we will enthusiastically welcome back our students, staff, and families to our campuses.”
State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Thurmond told California school districts last Tuesday that reopening schools before the summer break was unlikely, but fell short of ordering them to close. Gov. Gavin Newsom repeated a similar warning on Wednesday.
“Quite frankly, none of us knows when it’s safe for our kids to return,” said Thurmond. “Out of an abundance of caution, we believe it is most important that all of our schools maximize efforts around distance learning. We are asking everyone to accelerate their efforts.”
Local leaders had hoped for a clearer state directive on school closures. Rather than a district-by-district approach, Board of Education President Mark Sanchez feels the state should have a unified approach like the Bay Area counties that would also help inform a new approach to curriculum.
“It’s a state issue, it’s not a regional issue anymore,” Sanchez said last week. “We need much more guidance on the state level.”
In the meantime, SFUSD has prepared to fully implement a distance learning operation by April 13. More than 5,200 devices have been distributed to students in third through 12th grades and another 5,000 devices are estimated to be needed for distribution.
About 10,000 San Francisco students are in need of devices at home and 5,000 in need of internet access, the district estimates. The City said Friday it would install 25 Wi-Fi “Super Spots” in high-need areas like single room occupancy buildings that serve 100 users each.
Google has agreed to provide three months of internet connection to 100,000 locations throughout the state, Newsom said last week.
After the first closure extension to May 1, parent Robin Dutton-Cookston had been overwhelmed with the deluge of resources but was reassured by reminders that assignments are suggested, not mandatory. Still, she said homeschooling for the remainder of the year would be tough for her and her husband, as they are working from home while managing their high schooler, a middle schooler, and a first-grader.
“I don’t know how we’ll deal with that,” Dutton-Cookston said. “If we’re moving to school closures to the end of the year, there’s no way we can sustain daily online learning [at] grade level for three kids in our family.”
The district will also distribute books and other print materials for assignments. Families who still need a device are asked to fill out a request form before picking one up at meal sites. Five days worth of meals for children are available for pick up on Mondays and Wednesdays and don’t require proof of enrollment but the district is seeking donations to keep them coming.
“We know that distance learning comes with its own set of challenges, and we commit to provide students, families and educators with ongoing support,” Sanchez said. “We are working to find ways to stay connected which will continue to help us learn together and celebrate important milestones.”