Orange County school districts could be shutting down after meeting with the Orange County Department of Education superintendent Al Mijares Friday.
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The development comes amid a flurry of questions from parents over school closures.
“As a precautionary step to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and after careful deliberations with local school district leaders and in consultation with the Orange County Health Care Agency, I hereby support the decision of schools and districts in our county to suspend all activity for a minimum of 14 days,” reads a statement released by Mijares Friday afternoon.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that they will closing schools on Monday. Most local universities have already shifted to remote and online instruction.
Mijares, met with all superintendents from all OC school districts Friday and each of the districts will have to decide to close schools.
The education department is the lead agency on measures schools are taking to address the virus outbreak.
“This is not a decision we take lightly. We know that temporarily closing a school has a tremendous impact on our families, and steps will need to be implemented to support the continuity of learning and to ensure students have access to healthy meals. But the safety of our students and staff remains our top priority, and we have confidence that this is the proper precautionary course for Orange County,” reads the statement.
As of Thursday, there were only six known infections countywide, out of the 3.2 million total people in OC. That’s about 1 out of every 500,000 people, far fewer than the thousands of OC residents who have gotten the flu so far this season. There has been no evidence of coronavirus spreading within Orange County, county officials said.
“At this time, county health officials believe the risk of transmission is low, and there has been no evidence of a case affecting a student or staff member at an Orange County school,” reads Mijares’ school closure statement.
Although the education department is the lead agency in virus efforts and guidelines, it doesn’t have the authority to call for school closures countywide.
“This will be something that superintendents from each of the districts will decide at the district level. But they wanted to talk over with other districts in the county with what others would do, because if one district closes and another stays open it might raise questions,” district spokesman Fermin Leal said.
CalOptima Chairman, Dr. Paul Yost, who’s a pediatrician, said the best way to prevent spreading the virus is to maintain distances from other people.
“The main thing for right now, I think is social distancing and trying to prevent the spread as much as possible so we don’t see a huge spike that will stress our healthcare delivery system more than it will be,” Yost said.
CalOptima is the county’s $3.4 billion federally-funded health plan for low income and elderly residents.
Yost said healthy children likely won’t be as affected as the elderly, but children who have weakened immune systems could be impacted by the virus and parents should think about removing them from school.
“If a child has an immune deficiency, or is severely asthmatic, then I think that’s a good idea,” Yost said. “Definitely if that child has a chronic disease or is immunocompromised … then definitely social isolation.”
K-12 Public Schools
Up until Friday, March 13, all public K-12 schools in Orange County remained open while limiting social gatherings such as science fairs, field trips and talent shows.
At that point, school districts were following the state health department’s guidelines which called for limiting social gatherings and keeping schools open — as long as no proof of community transmission was found in the surrounding area.
“Decisions by school officials and local public health officials should be determined by the specific circumstances in local jurisdictions,” read the guidelines.
As school officials prepare for potential closures, preparations are underway on how to continue providing instruction for kids at home and providing meals to kids in need.
“We are making plans so that in the event of a state announced closure we will be able to support teaching and learning at home,” Hanigan said. “I don’t think you are ever going to replace a school day, but we do want to support a continuum of learning.”
As for providing food to kids dependent upon school meal programs, Hanigan said that Orange County school districts are following the state’s guidance and that a special waiver is being made available by the Department of Agriculture to continue providing meals.
“We’re still exploring what that looks like,” Hanigan said March 12. “Districts that operate summer seamless (meal) programs would qualify and it looks like the state is making some headway there.”
College campuses across are moving quickly to cancel in-person classes and switch to online instruction, which is ahead of the state’s higher ed recommendations based on no known community transmitted cases in Orange County to date.
Chapman University made the temporary switch starting Thursday, March 12 and is adjusting in-person new student receptions and tours to “virtual events.”
UC Irvine remains open at this moment, but instructors are given flexibility to move this week’s last week of quarterly classes online and final exams next week (starting March 16) will be completed online. The next, spring quarter, of instruction will be shifted to online. Graduate student work will be done remotely whenever possible and students living on campus are recommended to return to off-campus residences or to stay at home during the spring quarter.
Cal State Fullerton is transitioning over the next two weeks to online classes, with “mandatory virtual instruction” March 25 through April 26.
Community colleges are each given disclosure on whether to cancel in-person classes and move instruction online, and statewide more than 41 colleges have made or are making this transition, according to the Chancellor’s Office.
- Saddleback University and Irvine Valley College will both have a “soft close” between March 23 and May 1 with classes and support services available online.
- Classes at Santa Ana College and Santiago Canyon College are currently behind held as scheduled.
- Cypress College and Fullerton College are temporarily canceling classes and will resume those online starting Wednesday, March 18.
- Coastline College, Orange Coast College and GoldenWest College are transitioning to online classes starting Monday, March 16.
Sonya Quick is digital editor at Voice of OC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @sonyanews on Twitter.