(Photo courtesy of EdSource)

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Q: How many districts have closed schools in California?

A: More than 99 percent of the state’s school districts (939 districts) announced they will close this week due to the coronavirus as of noon on March 18. Schools will be closed for at least 6,065,337 students in California, about 99 percent of all K-12 students in the state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said March 17 that schools may remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Q: What does it mean that Bay Area residents are under orders to “shelter in place”? Will school children still be able to pick up school meals?

A: On March 16, the public health directors of seven Bay Area counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz — ordered all residents to shelter in place beginning at 12:01 a.m. March 17 except for those that are conducting essential business. The order, which was issued to slow the spread of coronavirus throughout the Bay Area region, lasts for three weeks through April 7. Sonoma County joined the other counties in issuing a similar order that took effect at midnight March 18 and Sacramento County is also asking most residents to stay home indefinitely, except for those conducting essential business.

Schools are considered essential businesses, according to the orders, and are allowed to continue distance learning and to provide meals on a pick-up and go basis. Residents may travel by foot, bike, car or public transit to pick up school meals, but must adhere to social distancing requirements by keeping at least 6 feet apart, including those standing in lines or on public transit. Some districts, such as Oakland Unified, are allowing families to pick up meals for more than one day so they don’t have to return daily, to help comply with social distancing requirements. Check the website of your school district to get the latest information, since not all schools are distributing meals.

Q: Who makes the decision to close schools? 

A: Closing schools due to coronavirus concerns is a decision that local school districts and schools make on their own in consultation with their county public health departments. Unlike several other states, as of March 16, California has not issued a statewide order for all schools to close. By March 18, most schools in the state had closed.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said on March 12 that schools do not fall under his executive order to cancel non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people until at least the end of March. He said schools are considered “essential” and local officials should consult guidance sent out March 7 before deciding whether to close. Check your district’s website to see what your school district is doing and advising.

The California Department of Education has created a webpage with resources and guidance for schools and districts here.

Q: When they do decide to close — even temporarily — are districts required to provide instruction online to all K-12 students?

A: On March 13, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that waived the minimum state requirement of 175 instructional days each year for schools and districts that close due to concerns about the coronavirus. To continue receiving state funding, the order requires districts to offer “high quality education opportunities” such as online learning, take-home materials or independent study “to the extent feasible.”

The state Legislature passed a bill on March 16 that guarantees the state funding promised by Newsom for schools and districts that close. Newsom’s administration expects to provide more details on March 17 about its expectations for instruction during school closures.

Districts that still want to meet the state’s minimum instructional requirements may have more flexibility in how they do that, based on new legislation promised on March 16 by Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. Although the bill would not provide additional funding, it would allow districts to extend the school day after classes resume and count the extra instructional minutes toward the minimum instructional year. Districts would likely need to negotiate terms and compensation for this with school unions.

The state issued new guidance on March 17 intended to help school districts understand how to provide distance learning, school meals and child care to students during closures.

Q: If school is closed, can I still have playdates for my children, or have groups of children together to do homework?

A. Limiting social interactions for children is tough, but in counties ordered to “shelter in place,” they are prohibited, and many public health experts are saying playdates are not a good idea in general right now. 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.

If you live in a county that has not been ordered to “shelter in place,” and you do decide to have visits or playdates, experts say to keep them small, ideally with only one other family that is not seeing any other people either, and hold them outside where children can move around with more space.

Q: Have any public colleges or universities completed closed their residential halls or dormitories? 

A: Although all of the state’s public universities and colleges have shifted most of their classes online, none have forced students to completely leave campus housing. However, some campuses are encouraging students, if they are able, to leave campus for their permanent home.

“Each campus leadership team has been taking their unique student populations into account to ensure that students are not negatively impacted,” said Toni Molle, director of public affairs for the California State University System. “These populations include foster youth, international students and students who do not have another place to go.”

At UCLA, for example, campus buildings including university housing, the student health center and campus dining facilities continue to provide services. On-campus dining facilities and university housing also remain open to students at UC Merced.

“We serve many students who may find this the best place to be with Wi-Fi, healthy food options, a health center, and our chancellor is cognizant of that,” said Elizabeth Arakelian, senior public information officer for UC Merced.

Q: How has the coronavirus affected the operation of California community colleges?

A: Most of California’s 114 community colleges have made plans to move classes online for the next several weeks. However, that is likely to be only the beginning of the changes to those colleges’ operations.

Eloy Oakley, the chancellor of California’s community college system, said colleges should expect disruptions to continue until June “at the very least” and possibly into next academic year. Oakley said colleges will need to move most or all classes online during that period and added that graduation ceremonies will need to either be postponed, canceled or moved to remote settings, as will conferences and other large events.

“We’re telling our colleges that we should plan for a second peak sometime around August or September. … So that’s why we’re telling our colleges to really think through not just this academic year, but next academic year as well and how that might impact instruction,” Oakley said.

The Board of Governors also voted unanimously to give extra emergency powers to Oakley allowing him to take “all appropriate actions” to ensure that students at the colleges can continue their education as the virus spreads.

Q: Have any California schoolchildren or teachers been diagnosed with the coronavirus ?

A: Yes. As of March 16, two K-12 students and one substitute teacher have been publicly identified as testing positive for the virus. The students attend an elementary school in Elk Grove Unified — which was the first large district to close all of its schools — and a private Catholic school operated by the San Francisco Archdiocese, which also closed all of its schools. The substitute teacher, who died Sunday, worked in Sacramento Unified.

Of the 598 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state as of 6 p.m. March 17, 13 were children ages 0-17, 392 were adults between the ages of 18 and 64, 188 were adults 65 or older and five were people whose ages were not known. Thirteen people have died due to the virus.


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 and shortness of breath.

According to the CDC, children do not seem to be at higher risk of getting the coronavirus although some children and infants have been sick with the disease. Older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like lung disease, diabetes or suppressed immune systems are at risk of contracting the virus.

The CDC recommends contacting a health care provider for medical advice if you think you or your children have been exposed and have any of the symptoms.

Q: Especially now that most schools are closed indefinitely, what should I tell my child about the virus?

A: “Be honest and say there is a cold virus that is showing up in different countries,” said Yvonne Maldonado, director of Infection Control at Stanford Children’s Hospital. “It makes some people very sick, but most people — especially children — seem not to get very sick with it. But because we want to protect the people who might get very sick, everyone is being careful about not spreading coughs and colds.”

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.

In addition, 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.”

Q: Have any college students been exposed to the virus?

A: Ten students at Cal State Long Beach were under a 14-day quarantine as of March 9 because they attended a conference in Washington, D.C., where three other attendees ended up testing positive for the virus. The students did not display any symptoms, but were in isolation “out of an abundance of caution,” the university said.

* EdSource staff writers Patrick Hoge, Larry Gordon, Diana Lambert, Michael Burke, John Fensterwald and Louis Freedberg contributed to this report.

* This Q&A is being updated to reflect latest developments. It was last updated at 1:30 p.m. March 19.

Story originally published by EdSource.