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Coronavirus will keep California schools from reopening, state superintendent says

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Schools in California will be unable to physically reopen this academic year due to concerns of the coronavirus, according to a letter from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, who encouraged educators to pivot quickly to online as students are expected to shelter in place through May 1 and possibly beyond.

The state’s top education official, Tony Thurmond, sent the letter to district superintendents Tuesday, saying it “currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year.”

“This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year,” Thurmond wrote. “But rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through distance learning.”

The letter, which was not a mandate, acknowledged what many school leaders already believed would take place before summer.

“We know that we are dealing with a never seen before health crisis that challenges us in many ways,” Thurmond wrote. “But we also believe that as it relates to educating California students we must rise to meet the challenge, that we are stronger together, and that if we work together we can do more together for all of our students.”

The California Department of Education has provided guidance and resources on distance learning. The state will also provide webinars and training, and help make technology accessible for families, according to the letter.

“What school board trustees and superintendents were looking for was clearer and more definitive guidance on what is fundamentally a public health decision,” said Troy Flint, spokesman of the California School Boards Association.

School districts can still make the decision to reopen, however, Flint said the overwhelming majority of them will “take heed of the assessment and keep schools closed.”

While California Gov. Gavin Newsom had also said it was unlikely schools would reopen, Sacramento and Yolo County officials announced schools would remain closed until May 1 — not yet pushing the date to the end of the school year.

“Some counties chose the May 1 date to give themselves additional time to assess the situation and to also signal to parents and families that we are likely in this in the long haul” Flint said. “I don’t think that with an absent directive, local leaders felt confident that they could extend school closures through the end of the year, and they expressed that point to the governor and Thurmond. I think that played a role in expediting today’s announcement.”

Flint said some schools may respond to the extended school closures creatively, including scheduling longer school days, implementing a year-round schedule, or offering more summer programs. Many schools will also focus on addressing equity issues and how to ensure students who are struggling don’t fall further behind because of the closures due to the pandemic.

“There is discussion of how and when we will resume schools, and whether school will look the same as it has previously,” Flint said. “I don’t think it will.”

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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