A young child washes his hands at school. (Photo courtesy of Pixnio)

* This Q&A is being updated to reflect latest developments. It was last updated at 7:30 a.m. on March 22. 

Q: How many districts have closed schools in California?

A: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 19 stay at home order ensures that the last remaining schools that were open last week will be closed as of Monday affecting all of the state’s more than 6 million students. As of last week, nearly all schools had closed except for a few in more rural areas that needed to make final arrangements for students and staff.

Q: How long will schools be closed?

A: No one can say how long schools will be closed, but Newsom said on March 17 that schools may remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Q: What exactly did Newsom say?

A: “Let me be candid. This is a very sober thing to say. And I can’t say this with certainty, but I can say this quite learnedly. Don’t anticipate schools are going to open up in a week. Please don’t anticipate in a few weeks. And I say that because I want to be honest and I need to be accountable to you. I don’t want to mislead you — six plus million in our system and their families. They need to make some plans at a time when a lot of plans are already being curtailed. But planning with kids is some of the most challenging planning. I would plan and assume that it’s unlikely that many of these schools, a few, if any will open up before the summer break.”

Q: Are schools actually closed?

A: Schools are closed as far as providing regular instruction to students. However, schools are remaining open to provide a range of services, including distance learning, school meals and in some cases child care, as required. In many cases, some employees will still be at the school, including cafeteria workers.

Q: Are teachers still working? 

A: Yes, but their duties and responsibilities have changed dramatically. Almost all of them will be working remotely — from their homes. Their exact responsibilities, and when they will be available to students and parents, will vary from district to district — and in many cases from school to school in that district.

Q: On March 19, Gov. Newsom 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: Californians are urged to leave home only for groceries or prescriptions. Outdoor walking or exercising is allowed as long as people stay at least six feet apart. As the governor elaborated late Saturday, everyone should use “common sense” to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. He had pointed words for young people who may be taking the stay at home and social distancing orders lightly. “Those young people that are still out there on the beaches thinking this is a party? Time to grow up. Time to wake up. Time to recognize it’s not just about the old folks. It’s about your impact on their lives. Don’t be selfish. Recognize you have responsibility to meet this moment as well.”

Q: Will schoolchildren and their parents or guardians still be able to pick up school meals?

A: Schools are considered essential businesses and facilities, 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 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 for more information, since not all schools are distributing meals.

Q: Where can I get more information about what schools are supposed to offer parents and children?

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

Q: Are districts required to provide instruction online to all K-12 students?

A: In order to continue receiving 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.”

Q: Will students still be required to take the standardized tests such as the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts that students in certain grades 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 state also created a “one-stop” 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.

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 under the statewide order to “stay home,” they are prohibited. 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: Have any California schoolchildren or teachers been diagnosed with the coronavirus?

A: Yes. Of the 1,066 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state as of 6 p.m. March 19, 18 were children ages 0-17, 711 were adults between the ages of 18 and 64, 273 were adults 65 or older and four were people whose ages were not known. Nineteen people have died due to the virus.

The LA Times tracker for cases in California, as of Sunday at 2 p.m., reports 1,536 confirmed cases and 28 deaths.

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 March 15, worked in Sacramento City Unified.

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. 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.”

Story originally published by EdSource.