Kern County educational leaders joined forces Monday morning, announcing plans to provide schoolwork, meals and childcare services to students as public schools prepare for temporary closures this week.
Although there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kern County as of Monday morning, all county kindergarten-through-12th grade public schools, preschools and charter schools will close temporarily, no later than the close of day Wednesday. Kern County Superintendent of Schools Mary C. Barlow added public schools plan to reopen no earlier than April 14.
“The decision to close schools was not taken lightly, and as an educational community we acknowledge that school closures will cause extreme hardships for many of our families,” Barlow said, noting 73 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced meals, 30 percent live in poverty and few have access to devices or internet connectivity that are necessary for distance learning.
KCSOS decided to delay closures through the weekend. However, due to additional guidelines from Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials, “we understand we can no longer operate those schools given the current circumstance,” Barlow said.
KCSOS Deputy Superintendent Lisa Gilbert announced learning packets in English language arts and math for transitional kindergarten through eighth grade students have been put together as a short-term solution, while teams from local districts and Canvas, a digital learning platform, are developing online lesson plans.
For the first two weeks of school closures, paper packets will be available with remedial practice of skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, reading text and answering comprehension questions. In the meantime, districts will assess how many households do not have electronic devices or internet connectivity. Estimates provided Monday show around 40 percent of children fall in that category.
Once data is collected, Barlow said officials will be able to distribute the proper devices and connectivity to make online learning possible. A call has been placed to state philanthropic partners and the Silicon Valley to supply electronic items.
“This is a time when we hear so often that Kern County has the greatest needs, Kern County is at the end of the list for kid success,” she said. “Well, if that is the case because we do not have the kinds of economy or support that we need, now is the time for those philanthropic individuals and businesses to come to our aid.”
Support available to special education students will be determined by staff members who work with them based on their individual learning and health goals.
Barlow said there’s the possibility the school year would be extended if online learning is not sufficient enough.
Childcare is also being assessed by a task force, on how it can be implemented while still meeting social distancing guidelines. Officials are considering holding childcare services at schools or other community sites.
While some parents are able to stay home or their employers are allowing them to work remotely, others might not have that option. For the time being, Barlow suggested they contact family members and friends who can help or high schoolers and college students who will be home.
“I really want to make sure they are partnering and working with one another to ensure that childcare occurs, but there’s a population that still needs us. We will figure out a way to deliver support for that most at-risk population,” Barlow said.
Free or reduced price school meals will be provided similarly as they are in summer months through the Seamless Summer Option, explained Chris Hall, assistant superintendent of support services for KCSOS. It will begin the day following school closures and be available for students 18 years and younger through June 30.
A grab-and-go option is being considered, where meals will be packaged for the day and individuals can pick up food for members of their families who qualify. Other factors have also been looked at, such as providing meals that do not require microwaves.
“We still have to serve food safely, so some of those menu items and how those are packaged will make a difference,” Hall explained. “There are shelf stable products that we’ll be looking at.”
At this time, Toni Smith, assistant superintendent of human resources, said a majority of employees are expected to work at their normal work site during regular hours. Individuals who are 65 and older or have chronic health conditions can work from home as a self-isolation measure or be on paid leave.
While children are out of school during the temporary closure, “Parents should avoid taking their children to crowded areas like shopping malls and stores and should avoid all non-essential travel,” said Kern County Public Health Services Director Matthew Constantine.
Visit https://alertline.kern.org/ to learn what individual school districts’ plans are during school closures.