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Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Windsor public schools close classrooms, shift to at-home instruction

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School shutdowns

The following school districts and schools have announced they will suspend classroom instruction through April 5, according to the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Alexander Valley Union School District

Cloverdale Unified School District

Kenwood School District

Pathways Charter School

Reach Charter School

Roseland School District

Santa Rosa City Schools

Sonoma Charter School

Sonoma Valley Unified School District

West Side Union School District

Windsor Unified School District

Wright Elementary School District

Additionally, Cardinal Newman High School will be closed through March 29 and St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Healdsburg also has suspended classroom instruction.

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For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Leaders of school districts including more than 35,000 Sonoma County students announced Saturday they will suspend classroom instruction through April 5, after next week’s spring break due to the threat of coronavirus.

They include Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest district, and the Windsor, Healdsburg and Sonoma Valley unified districts, as well as elementary districts like Roseland and Rincon Valley.

And the Sonoma County Office of Education, in conjunction with the county Department of Health Services, issued a joint statement Saturday recommending all county school districts transition to at-home instruction through at least March 27 in order to reduce potential spread of the virus.

District officials said they were unaware of any new local cases of COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the coronavirus, involving students, teachers or staff of districts involved in the move. But they are trying to help “flatten the curve” of possible new cases through social distancing, by getting students out of the classroom for the time being and moving to home-based learning.

In addition, the districts are all canceling after-school activities and sports, child care and school field trips through April 5.

“This is such an unprecedented time, even in this community that has been through so much,” Santa Rosa City Schools spokeswoman Beth Berk said. “Everyone in our district is working to do the best we can to provide students opportunities for learning.”

All school districts also are working to provide grab-and-go lunches that can be picked up at school sites by those in need while they’re learning at home.

Sonoma County Schools Superintendent Steve Herrington said news from California Gov. Gavin Newsom late Friday that he was, by executive order, authorizing districts to spend school funds on remote instruction and distance learning was a critical point in the agency’s decision.

Newsom’s order also allows for provision of meals for needy children even if they’re not on campus and development of strategies to ensure all students, regardless of income or disability, can access the internet and otherwise enjoy equity in education during classroom suspensions.

The governor’s order means districts will not lose revenue by not having students on campus.

“That was a qualifying event,” Herrington said.

District superintendents still have to decide individually how to address risks raised by the pandemic, as the Sonoma County Office of Education does not have authority to require them to close or make other contingencies. Major school districts like Petaluma, West Sonoma County and Cotati-Rohnert Park unified school districts had not acted as of Saturday night.

Many districts around the Bay Area and elsewhere near coronavirus hot spots already have sent students home, including in Marin County, which, with two new confirmed cases of the virus announced Saturday, now has five cases.

Mendocino County and Round Valley Unified School Districts announced Friday they would suspend site-based instruction even though the county has no coronavirus cases.

Herrington said that since Sonoma County’s three cases were all from Princess Cruises ships and there had been no evidence of community spread, the county education agency was operating under the first, “containment” phase of the county’s written Pandemic Response plan. With the ramping up of local, state and national public health emergencies, the education agency was switching to “mitigation” — just as the Sonoma County health officials announced late Saturday a new, fourth confirmed case of COVID-19 here. It’s believed to be the first county resident to contract the virus through unknown, community exposure.

School shutdowns

The following school districts and schools have announced they will suspend classroom instruction through April 5, according to the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Alexander Valley Union School District

Cloverdale Unified School District

Kenwood School District

Pathways Charter School

Reach Charter School

Roseland School District

Santa Rosa City Schools

Sonoma Charter School

Sonoma Valley Unified School District

West Side Union School District

Windsor Unified School District

Wright Elementary School District

Additionally, Cardinal Newman High School will be closed through March 29 and St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Healdsburg also has suspended classroom instruction.

_____

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

By then, officials of Santa Rosa City Schools, with nearly 16,000 students at 24 campuses, had announced Saturday afternoon the district would transition to home-based learning via online and paper instruction beginning March 23.

Healdsburg and Windsor school districts followed suit, each saying they had made carefully considered, difficult decisions in consultation with the Sonoma County Department of Health Services and the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Hours later, county health officials joined Herrington in the recommendation to suspend classroom meetings, prompting a surge in school districts announcing transition to remote learning.

Herrington said keeping students at home at least an extra week after spring break not only helps reduce the potential for viral spread, but allows school staffs extra time to plan how to maintain social distancing among students once they return to campus.

Superintendents from the county’s 40 districts are to meet on Monday with county health officials to discuss strategies and how best to maintain consistencies across districts countywide, he said.

Berk said elementary students in the Santa Rosa district received paper and pencil schoolwork already, while secondary students would have more variety. But she said every effort would be made to accommodate students who don’t have internet access, and said every online lesson also would be available in paper-and-pencil format when needed.

In Healdsburg, elementary school students already have received materials covering two weeks of remote learning, Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said in his announcement Saturday. He said secondary students would transition to online learning beginning March 24.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com

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