All schools in Stanislaus County — including Turlock Unified School District — announced closures this week in light of coronavirus spread throughout the Central Valley.
Four cases of the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19, have been confirmed by Stanislaus County Public Health as of Tuesday, with neighboring counties also reporting positive tests for the illness. On March 15, the Stanislaus County Office of Education, in collaboration with the 25 school districts in the county, announced plans for school closures beginning March 19. According to SCOE, each district will announce its own return dates.
“Local superintendents did not make this decision lightly and recognize that this may cause a hardship for some families,” SCOE said. “The decision was made based on declining student attendance, increased health concerns, and community feedback.”
Locally, TUSD, Denair Unified School District, Hughson Unified School District, Keyes Union School District and Turlock Christian Schools have all announced closures, as well as Hilmar Unified School District in Merced County.
Campuses within TUSD will tentatively remain closed through April 19, according to a letter sent to the district community by Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan. Trevethan oversees 14,000 students and 1,500 staff members throughout TUSD and said it was her “greatest responsibility other than being a mom.” The district remained open until Thursday in order to allow for parents to make any necessary childcare plans.
“As your Superintendent, I value my role in protecting students and staff and working to accommodate the needs of our families,” Trevethan said. “...We collectively believe (the closure) is in the best interest of our students and staff. We will notify you in the event that schools remain suspended beyond this time frame.”
Some students were left stunned by the announcement, which could effectively cut their school year short should campus closures extend beyond April 19. The last day of school is May 29.
“As much as students would be happy about this, I am not,” Pitman High School senior Adrienne Navarette said. “This is our last year and I feel like it’s being taken away. I feel like loads of pressure is on us students to get work done over the break, and that can be hard without aid from a teacher.”
In addition, parents were left scrambling to find childcare as a result of the closures. The extra three days of school this week helped some, like Turlock mom Kristyn Aredas, do so in time. Aredas’ mother, who is a teacher in Ceres, will be able to watch her elementary school-aged daughter while she helps keep shelves stocked at Target during the day.
“I was really nervous hearing about the shutdown. I think as a working parent, it’s hard to come up with a plan with short notice,” Aredas said. “The place I work at is one of the stores that needs to stay open during this stressful time so everyone can get essentials. I’m normally always off before my daughter gets out of school, so I never needed to worry about childcare until now.”
Parents had the option of bringing their children to school this week prior to the closure and students who remained home received an excused absence. Attendance was down significantly on Monday, the district said.
Turlock Teachers Association President Christine Rowell said 20 of her 32 fourth grade students showed up for class at Medeiros Elementary School on Monday, and later that day she met with administrators at the district office to work on details of the closure.
“TTA priorities include keeping our graduating seniors on track and coming to an agreement about distance learning expectations,” Rowell said. “TTA is concerned mainly about maintaining equity in all educational opportunities. We need to be mindful of students who may have the ability to participate in non-classroom alternatives due to the lack of access to a quiet space, home support or access to technology.”
The City of Turlock announced it would also be closing its after school programs P.L.A.Y. and A.S.E.S. beginning on Thursday and until school sites are back in session.
TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Heidi Lawler announced on Tuesday expectations for optional opportunities during the closure that allow learning to continue equitably without dependence on internet access. Hard copy learning materials will be provided to students prior to leaving school on Wednesday, students in grades 7-12 will take home Chromebooks to help complete schoolwork, while TK-6 students can supplement their take-home materials with physical education activities at home, online learning sources and social-emotional learning suggestions.
“We absolutely know that nothing can replace face-to-face learning, and the daily contact with a teacher or other staff member, for our students; however, this intermittent plan is our best effort to keep our students learning in a thoughtful, caring way while knowing that school, and the world, is at a completely different place than it’s ever been before,” Lawler said. “Your patience and collaborative efforts during this unprecedented time are respected immensely.”
At Turlock Christian, where classes will be cancelled as well come Thursday, students will take their school-provided Chromebooks home with them and participate in online lessons.
“While the safety of our students is our primary concern, deciding the best course of action is not a simple process. No matter what the ultimate course of action, the impact on different families is profound. I have some who are upset because we did not decide last week to close the school. Others are begging us to keep the school open because they have no viable alternatives for childcare during school hours,” TCS Head of School Dr. William Hoyt said. “...In the face of the COVID-19 threat, most schools by closing their campuses, in effect, are closing their school and the learning process for their students is coming to a virtual halt. TCS is blessed to be able to continue educating students while helping to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus by closing the campus.”
Spectrum says it will provide free internet access to students who currently don't use its service in order to increase access to educational website. The company will install broadband and WiFi in new student households free of charge and provide access for 60 days. The offer is available to families with both K-12 and college students.
In addition, TUSD is offering meals to students beginning Thursday to fight food insecurity during the closure. Lunch will be provided from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Cunningham, Crowell, Julien, Osborn, Wakefield and Turlock Junior High School from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on a grab-and-go basis. Any child between the ages of two and 18 can get a free meal from any of these TUSD campuses; they do not need to be enrolled in a TUSD school nor go to their school of enrollment but the child does need to be present.
Students in Denair can also receive free meals while campuses are closed. Beginning Thursday, meals can be picked up in the Denair Middle School parking lot between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and again between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Keyes families in need of meals are encouraged to visit one of the TUSD distribution sites.
Hilmar will provide meals to students from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Strom Gymnasium behind the district office, and in Stevinson at the Merquin Elementary School library.
The closures have impacted high school testing as well, with the College Board announcing that administration of the May 2 SAT test has been cancelled and home-testing options for AP testing in May are being explored.