Sonoma County colleges, public schools extend campus closures due to coronavirus
Colleges and public school districts in Sonoma County have decided to extend campus closures for the rest of the school year to curb the spread of the coronavirus, keeping distance instruction in place to teach more than 100,000 students.
The Sonoma County Office of Education said Wednesday all 40 county school district superintendents would follow a directive from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said schools should remain closed to help stifle transmission of the infectious disease in order to help prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed with virus patients.
Newsom stopped short of an executive order that would have forced every school district statewide to comply, but “it seems everybody is on board,” said Jamie Hansen, spokeswoman for the county education agency.
Suspending in-person classes for the rest of the semester affects the 69,734 students enrolled in public schools countywide, as well as the more than 31,000 combined student population at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University. Leaders of the two colleges made their own decisions on campus shutdown extensions through the semester.
Steve Herrington, superintendent of the county education office, said closing schools takes a toll on the social and emotional development of youth, who rely on the classroom interaction for a sense of community. And for Sonoma County students in particular, it’s another blow after years of recurring disruptions caused by natural disasters.
“It’s a great academic loss. There’s no doubt about it,” Herrington said of the decision to stay closed and continue at-home instruction. “You can only approach certain things online. … These students of Sonoma County, they have gone through the Tubbs fire, the Kincade fire, the (Russian River) floods, the power outages, the air quality days. Now this.”
Santa Rosa City Schools, the largest district in the county, alerted families it was following the governor’s advice. District Superintendent Diann Kitamura described social distancing practices — staying at least 6 feet from another person — as the best method for fighting COVID-19, the sometimes fatal illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
The district, which includes 16,000 students and employs 1,800 people, also said school spring proms would be rescheduled. And education officials are now seeking suggestions from the community on how best to handle graduation ceremonies.
Kitamura said her “heart absolutely aches” for seniors whose already tumultuous high school tenure now has been upended again right before the finish line.
“I felt it’s important we follow the order, but I also think it’s important to give parents and students an avenue to share their thoughts and feelings,” she said of graduation. “There could be an idea we’re not even thinking about that could come from the students. I’m open to that.”
School districts are continuing to expand at-home learning capabilities by providing more students with laptops, Wi-Fi access and paper assignments by mail.
An agreement between numerous school labor organizations also was announced Wednesday to ensure remote instruction can be provided for all public school students, including those with special needs and English learners. The state has partnered with Google, and the technology giant will be donating thousands of laptops and providing 100,000 mobile hot spots to help the rural corners of the state gain vital internet access.