More Sonoma County school districts close amid coronavirus concerns
Nearly all of Sonoma County’s 40 K-12 school districts will be switching to home learning as local efforts to practice social distancing ramp up to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
At least 17 more districts and charter schools announced Monday they would be suspending classroom instruction after the Sonoma County Office of Education recommended all local districts shift to remote learning through at least March 27.
Bellevue Union, Sebastopol Union and Guerneville Union were among the latest districts to announce the switch Monday, joining more than 20 others that announced over the weekend that they would implement remote instruction after spring break this week.
The closures now impact most of the county’s roughly 70,000 public school students. Districts are hoping to reopen their classrooms on April 6, though for some that date remains uncertain.
“We know that suspending classes creates a significant disruption to the lives of students, staff and families,” SCOE Superintendent Steve Herrington said in a prepared statement. “School districts have been diligently preparing for how to offer continuity of education, meals and other vital services even if students are not physically at school.”
Petaluma City Schools, the second-largest district in the county, said in a statement Monday it would extend spring break an additional week, through March 27, before potentially switching to remote instruction. The extra week will be used to prepare distance learning options, if the district goes that route.
Santa Rosa Junior College announced on Friday it would be extending its suspension of all classes and on-campus activities through March 29 to prepare for remote teaching and different ways to provide services under a social distancing mandate.
The first two cases of COVID-19 community spread were confirmed over the weekend, including one in Rohnert Park, prompting Sonoma State University to transition to remote instruction until April 19. The university is on spring break this week and will take an extra day next Monday before classes resume March 24.
Sonoma County’s interim Public Health Officer, Dr. Sundari Mase, met with local school district officials Monday morning to provide an update on coronavirus, and what the evolving situation means for local schools.
Representatives from some of the smaller, rural districts in the far reaches of the county posed questions about their need to close given many of the social distancing criteria do not apply, said SCOE spokeswoman Jamie Hansen, who attended the meeting. Mase recommended they should close, Hansen said, both for consistency across the county, and because distancing rules could change to where even those that serve less than 50 students would need to close.
“It was a chance for everybody to hear the same information, and for those districts that hadn’t decided on what do for the coming weeks, it was helpful to hear,” Hansen said of the meeting.
Public health is expected to begin modeling different test scenarios of social distancing, including what would happen if schools reopened next month as scheduled or remained closed later into the spring semester.
Local school districts on spring break began working in earnest on their plans for an extended closure once classes resume next week.
One of the largest hurdles ahead is providing meals for the roughly 45% of Sonoma County students who rely on their school for at least one meal per day.
Santa Rosa City Schools is coordinating food distribution for its 24 schools through nine sites around the city, offering a drive thru service from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for all of its roughly 16,000 students, said Superintendent Diann Kitamura.
Some districts have started meeting weekly with county officials that provide meals to at-risk communities so they can create a plan for schools that don’t necessarily have the capacity to provide meals during a closure, Hansen said.
In Lake County, Public Health Officer Gary Pace on Monday ordered a mandatory, four-week closure of all schools within its six public districts beginning at the end of the school day to “prevent initial exposure and secondary transmission to our most vulnerable populations,” he said. All school-related activities would be either canceled or postponed through April 10.