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 6 p.m. April 3.

Q: How many districts have closed schools in California? 

A: All schools are effectively closed for classroom instruction.

The only exception identified by EdSource may be the Outside Creek School District in Tulare County, which consists of a single elementary school with about 100 students. As of April 1, the school was still open. No one could be reached at the school as of April 2. It is unclear if the district is still closed.

However, school districts are stressing that even though students are not physically in class, schools are not actually closed and are required to offer “distance learning” in some fashion. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in an April 1 news conference with Gov. Gavin Newsom that schools should plan to provide distance learning through the end of the school year.

Q: How long will schools be closed?  

A:  The clearest answer is that no one knows for certain.  However, it seems increasingly likely that most or all schools will not open for in-class instruction before the end of the school year, unless there is a dramatic improvement in the evolution of the pandemic.

On April 1, state schools Superintendent Thurmond sent a letter to all 58 county superintendents recommending that  they plan on offering digital instruction through the end of the school year. The following day Newsom endorsed that message. “I can’t be more clear about this,” he said, adding that it would not make sense to send more than 6 million children back to school when state officials are predicting the peak surge in coronavirus cases in California will likely occur in mid-May.

However, Newsom has not issued an order for schools to be closed until the end of the school year, and doing so is still  a local decision.  Following the recommendation of both Thurmond and Newsom, school districts throughout the state have indicated that they will not reopen for in-class instruction until the end of their school year, including all schools in Sacramento, Monterey and Riverside counties, as well as individual districts including Long Beach Unified, West Contra Costa Unified and Fresno Unified.

Some districts are still awaiting guidance from their county departments of health and county offices of education before making final decisions about whether to remain closed.

Q: Are schools actually closed?

A: 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.

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. During the first few weeks in April, many teachers will be on “spring break” and will not work during that time.

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: Californians are urged to only leave home 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.

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 is at www.parks.ca.gov.

Q: Can schoolchildren and their parents or guardians still pick up school meals?

A: Yes, in most cases and in most parts of the state. Schools are considered essential businesses and facilities, and are expected to continue to provide meals on a pick-up-and-go basis. This expectation was laid out in Gov. Newsom’s executive order. Residents may travel by foot, bike, car or public transit to pick up school meals, but must practice social distancing while they do so. Some districts allow families to pick up meals for more than one day or are partnering with local food banks to provide more food to families.  Most recently, school districts have received a waiver from the federal government to provide meals for any children under the age of 18 who request one. Check the website of your school district for more information, since not all schools are distributing meals.

Q: What are schools are supposed to offer parents and children?

A:  Under an executive order issued by Gov. Newsom  districts are expected to provide “high quality education opportunities”  through methods including online learning, take-home materials or independent study — but only “to the extent feasible.” School districts are expected to serve special education students, although the state and federal government have given districts some flexibility in applying federal regulations and laws.

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

Q: Are teachers grading students’ work during school closures? How will this affect graduation requirements?

A:  Yes, but this depends on the district. Several districts have announced they will grade students work, and the number is expected to grow. The California Department of Education has issued detailed guidance on grading and graduation requirements here.

It is up to local districts to decide whether or not to issue grades, but how and for what purpose they are used is also likely to vary considerably.  Colleges have agreed to accept credit/no credit or pass/fail for high school courses, including A-G courses required for admission to UC and CSE, with no negative impact on an applicant’s high school GPA.  Another big question is whether the grades will go on students’ transcripts. Some districts are saying they will, and other say they won’t  In general, the state’s purpose, which several of the state’s largest districts have embraced, is to hold students harmless — in other words, however they do on the work done while at home will not hurt their GPA or their ability to graduate or gain admission to UC or CSU.

Q: Will students still be required to take the standardized tests that students in third-eighth grades and 11th grade 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. Final approval is expected after a public comment period ends on April 15.

Q: What impact is the virus having on AP exams, as well as the SAT and ACT college admissions 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.

ACT has rescheduled the April 4 national ACT test date to June 13. All students who have already registered for the 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 has canceled the May 2 SAT administration. Registered students will receive refunds and the College Board will provide additional SAT testing opportunities as feasible, according to a news release. It has not yet canceled the June 6 test and advises students to access free online resources at https://www.khanacademy.org/sat.

However, the University of California system has suspended its admission requirement for SAT or ACT tests for the class of 2021 and the California State University system is considering doing so.

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: 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 and Prevention, 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 health care 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:   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.

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.

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.”

* EdSource staff writers Larry Gordon, Sydney Johnson, Zaidee Stavely and Louis Freedberg contributed to this report.

Story originally published by EdSource.