Q: Are all schools in California closed?
A: Yes, all schools are closed as far as providing regular classroom instruction. However, many schools are open at certain times to provide a range of services, including distance learning, school meals, and in some cases child care. Some employees are still at schools, including cafeteria workers. Districts consider schools open since they are offering online learning and instruction.
Outside Creek Elementary, a single K-8 school district in Tulare County, was the last school to remain open, but county officials said on April 27 that the school is now closed until further notice.
Q: What challenges do schools face to delivering online learning to all students?
A: One of the biggest challenges to switching to distance learning for many districts has been little to no access to computers or internet at home. On April 21 during a press briefing by Gov. Newsom, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, said that “one in five students lack connectivity or an appropriate device for remote learning.”
Districts and state leaders have rushed to get donated devices into students’ hands, but California still needs at least 447,451 laptops and 340,202 Wi-Fi hotspots to connect every student to internet at home, according to the latest numbers provided by the California Department of Education on May 4.
To fill those gaps, the California Department of Education launched a statewide task force focused on connecting students with technology at home and created the California Bridging the Digital Divide Fund to collect donations of funds and technology to students in preschool through 12th grade. Individual contributions can be made through the GoFundMe campaign. Institutional and corporate donors are invited to contact Mary Nicely at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some students who have already received the free devices are still having trouble connecting. In Los Angeles, students have reported slow and unreliable internet and other challenges with sharing devices at home among siblings, while some rural areas without cell reception are unable to use the mobile WiFi devices at all.
Q: How long will schools be closed for in-person instruction?
A: That is still unclear. Currently, most schools in California are scheduled to be closed through the end of the school year — which in some cases is late May, in others early to mid-June.
What will happen with summer school classes is still unknown in most cases. Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified plan to offer virtual summer classes to help students catch up on what they have missed. It is likely that many other districts will follow suit.
Los Angeles Unified will remain closed through the end of the school year and will offer virtual summer school to help students catch up on what they missed. Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo has recommended that all 80 districts in the county extend their closures for the remainder of the school year, and nearly half had done so as of April 13.
Q: Are teachers still working?
A: Yes, but their duties and responsibilities have changed. Almost all are working remotely. Their responsibilities and availability to students and parents varies from district to district. Most are ramping up distance learning plans, which can include online instruction or packets of materials sent home to students.
Q. What plans are being made for California schools to reopen?
There is a widespread expectation that schools will reopen in the fall, but it is far from clear whether they will reopen in the same way they were operating previously.
Gov. Newsom has laid out several conditions for lifting shelter in place orders currently in place in California, and the state is nowhere near meeting them. In his Daily briefing on April 14, he said if schools were to open in the fall, they would probably have to implement a range of strategies to ensure a modicum of “social distancing” in the schools. Some of these strategies could include: staggered schedules for different groups of students, and limiting the number of students during meal distribution and in activities such as assemblies, physical education classes and recess.
Newsom said changes in school schedules would have to be negotiated with labor unions. Although he did not specifically address sports or events such as Back to School nights, Newsom said he expected large gatherings would be “negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and a vaccine.” But he emphasized that that local health and school officials would help to determine when campuses can safely reopen in different parts of the state.
Q: Gov. Newsom has issued an executive order ordering Californians to “stay at home” or “at their place of residence.” What does that mean for parents and children?
A: Initially, Californians were urged to leave home only for groceries, prescriptions, exercise or other “essential” business or activities. When going out, people are required to stay at least 6 feet apart and are encouraged to wear face masks. Newsom’s order does not specify an end date. However, he released a report card on May 4 that outlined four phases for reopening some businesses with modifications in phase 2, which began May 8 and did not include schools. On May 13, he announced that several counties had met criteria for reopening additional businesses with modifications. These can include K-12 schools, but not higher education. The following counties have pursued broader phase 2 openings: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Benito, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter, Tehama, Tuolumne and Yuba.
Phase 3 is expected to include higher education and phase 4 will include large gatherings such as sporting events.
In the Bay Area, six counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara — have extended similar shelter in place orders through the end of May. Los Angeles County announced in May that it expects its “safer at home” and business closures order to extend through “the next few months,” but began loosening restrictions in some areas such as beaches. Solano County has extended its shelter in place order to May 17, and Napa County has amended its shelter at home order, making it indefinite. Many counties are also requiring residents to wear face masks.
To prevent overcrowding in parks, Newsom ordered parking lots closed at state parks and beaches. Many counties also closed parks, playgrounds and beaches. Details on state park closures and restrictions are at www.parks.ca.gov.
Q: Can school children and their parents or guardians still pick up school meals?
A: Schools have provided millions of “grab and go” meals to students since campuses closed. As of April 20, Los Angeles Unified had distributed more than 10 million meals to students and families in the first three weeks of school closures. Though each district has a different distribution system in place, in most cases students or their parents can travel by foot, bike, car or public transit to pick up the meals. Some districts like Oakland Unified open a few days a week and allow people to pick up enough meals for several days, while others like Los Angeles Unified offer daily meal distribution. Several districts have partnered with food banks and other organizations to provide families with groceries and supplies in addition to meals for students.
Gov. Newsom’s “Stay at Home” Executive Order, March 19, 2020.
Gov. Newsom’s Executive Order for Closed Schools, March 13, 2020.
Guidance for Schools, California Dept. of Education.
For the latest developments in education, go here.
Q: What are schools supposed to offer parents and children?
A: According to Gov. Newsom’s executive order on March 13, in order to receive state funding, districts are required to offer “high quality education opportunities” such as online learning, take-home materials or independent study — but only “to the extent feasible.” They are also expected to offer free and reduced priced meals to low-income students, and to provide “to the extent practical” supervision for students during ordinary school hours. The latter requirement was intended to meet the needs of parents who had no child care alternatives, but it has not been implemented to any great extent.
The state has created a coronavirus website at www.covid19.ca.gov with an education page that includes links to guidance for K-12 schools and colleges and universities, as well as links to other resources for families and educators. The California Department of Education is also updating parents regarding resources and other information in newsletters here.
Q: Are teachers grading students’ work during school closures?
A: It is up to local districts to decide whether or not to issue grades, but most will at the very least grade students using pass/no pass or credit/no credit. The California State University and the University of California have agreed to accept credit/no credit or pass/fail for courses, including the A-G course sequence needed for admission, with no impact to Grade Point Averages. The California Department of Education has released guidance on grading and graduation requirements here. Here’s an EdSource Quick Guide on grading.
Q: Are teachers taking attendance?
A: Though the California Department of Education is not requiring districts to take roll at this time in order to receive state funds based on attendance, it is encouraging districts to keep track of how many students are participating in distance learning. Additionally, teachers are taking it upon themselves to stay in touch with students, both to make sure they are keeping up with their coursework and to make sure they are getting the resources and support they need.
Q: Will students still be required to take the state’s standardized Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts that students in grades 3-8 and 11 take every spring?
A: No. On March 18, Newsom signed an emergency order suspending standardized testing, meaning students in grades 3-8 and 11 will not be required to take Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts this spring. The U.S. Department of Education gave the state preliminary approval to waive standardized testing for this school year and the requirement to include the test data that would have been produced in the state’s school accountability system, the California School Dashboard. The waived tests include the Smarter Balanced and science tests that assess the Next Generation Science Standards, and the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California for English learners.
Q: What about Advanced Placement tests, SAT and ACT tests?
A: Shortened versions of Advanced Placement exams will be administered online from May 11-22. The 45-minute tests, which are accessible by iPhones, will be open-book and will only include written responses, with no multiple choice questions. Security measures including anti-plagiarism software are expected to discourage cheating.
AP test takers can earn college credit if they score high enough on the AP exams, which are offered in 38 subjects including biology, U.S. history and Spanish. Free online prep classes are available and students who don’t have access to technology or the internet can seek help here.
Both the SAT and ACT are preparing online, at-home versions of those important tests for possible widespread use in the fall if schools and testing sites don’t reopen.
ACT canceled its April 4 national ACT test date but expects to hold exam sessions in June, July, September, October and December, depending on when schools reopen. All students who were registered for a now canceled test will receive an email with instructions for next steps. Additional test dates and other information is available at www.ACT.org.
The College Board canceled its May and June SAT administrations. Registered students may receive refunds or can get priority access to reschedule their dates. If stay-at-home rules are lifted, in-person SAT exams will start up again August 29 and a September date will be added to the schedule of tests in October, November and December. Students can obtain access to free online prep resources at https://www.khanacademy.org/sat.
However, both the University of California system and CSU systems have suspended admission requirements for SAT or ACT tests for the class of 2021.
Q: If school is closed, can parents still arrange playdates for their children, or have groups of children together to do homework?
A: Limiting social interactions for children with their friends is tough, but under the statewide order to “stay home,” children can not visit in their friends homes and the order specifies that babysitters or other caregivers can visit other homes but with precautions for social distancing and hand washing. The symptoms of the coronavirus can take days to show up, and people can be contagious even if they do not yet have symptoms. Also, each additional child has other circles of contacts — their family and the people their family is in touch with. “Even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent,” writes Dr. Asaf Bitton, a primary care physician and public health expert, in an opinion published on Medium.
In lieu of in-person playdates, some families are setting up video playdates for their kids, and encouraging them to write letters or emails to other family members or friends.
Q: Can I still send my child to daycare or preschool? What about hiring a nanny or babysitter?
The best way to help contain the spread of the coronavirus is to keep your child home. Child care, preschool, and babysitters should only be serving the children of essential workers during the stay-at-home order.
If you are an essential worker, you can still hire a babysitter or nanny to come to your house, or you can send your child to a child care or preschool program, if it is open, and you may be eligible for free child care, if you have no other available care. You can find a child care program by calling your child care resource and referral agency.
Q: Have any California schoolchildren or teachers been diagnosed with the coronavirus?
A: Yes. Of the 33,261 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state as of April 20, 683 were children ages 0-17, 15,901 were adults between the ages of 18 and 49, 8,961 were adults between 50 and 64, 7,650 were adults 65 or older, and 66 were people whose ages were not known. Of the 1,268 deaths due to the virus, one was a 17-year-old boy who lived in Lancaster, in Los Angeles County. However, that case was being further evaluated to determine whether there was an alternative cause of death. Details about which school he may have attended were not released.
Two K-12 students and one substitute teacher were publicly identified as testing positive for the virus before schools closed throughout the state. The students attended an elementary school in Elk Grove Unified and a private Catholic school operated by the San Francisco Archdiocese. The substitute teacher, who died March 15, worked in the Sacramento Unified School District.
Since schools closed, Oakland Unified announced on April 17 that two people who were district staff members or volunteers had tested positive for the coronavirus, after participating in the district’s food distribution program and technology device distribution more than a week before. However, the district did not name the locations where they assisted, to protect their privacy.
Q: What are the symptoms of the coronavirus and what should parents or guardians do if their child develops them?
A: The symptoms of the coronavirus are similar in children and adults and can be mild or severe. Those symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, children do not seem to be at higher risk of getting the coronavirus although some children and infants have been sick with the disease and one has died in California. Older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like lung disease, diabetes or suppressed immune systems are at higher risk of contracting the virus and possibly dying.
The CDC recommends contacting a healthcare provider for medical advice if you think you or your children have been exposed and have any of the symptoms. The CDC has also released additional tips to help keep children healthy while school is out that include suggested routines for continuing children’s education at home.
Q: Especially now that most schools are closed indefinitely, what should I tell my child about the virus?
A: The Centers for Disease Control has a number of recommendations. These include:
- Remain calm and reassuring.
- Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
- Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
- Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio or online.
- Provide information that is honest and accurate.
- Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.
The National Association of School Psychologists has also issued helpful hints for parents similar to those from the CDC. Among them: Limit television viewing or access to information on the internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present.
State Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris has released a 1-minute video on Twitter to help parents and caregivers talk to children about the coronavirus.
— Office of the California Surgeon General (@CA_OSG) March 23, 2020
Burke-Harris urges adults to approach the conversation in a calm way, ask what children have heard and allow them to share their fears, correct any misinformation, reassure them and remind them about the importance of proper hygiene, healthy eating and exercise.
In addition, Burke-Harris stresses the need for adults to take care of themselves. She urges the public to visit www.covid19.ca.gov for coronavirus information and resources, which are updated regularly.
National Public Radio has created a comic to help parents talk to their children about the virus. And the independent national nonprofit The Child Mind Institute, which focuses on children’s mental health, has posted an article titled: “Talking to kids about the coronavirus: Kids worry more when they’re kept in the dark.”
Staff writers Theresa Harrington, Larry Gordon, Sydney Johnson, Zaidee Stavely, Ali Tadayon and Louis Freedberg contributed to this report