Top California officials, including the governor and state superintendent, signaled this week that public school students won't return to their campuses before the end of the school year.
"Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing, it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond wrote in a March 31 letter to county superintendents. "This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year, but rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through distance learning."
The letter was not a directive, but the state is "urging a safety first approach out of an abundance of caution," Thurmond wrote, during what he described as a "never seen before health crisis."
Thurmond, along with Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond, reiterated this guidance during a press conference on Wednesday at the state Capitol, without explicitly mandating that schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year. The "expectation" is that schools will not reopen, Newsom said.
Thurmond said Wednesday that he's urging all superintendents "to proceed as if we can only educate our kids through distance learning for the remainder of the school year."
"Quite frankly, no one knows when it's safe enough for our students to return to campus," he said. "We are asking everyone to accelerate their efforts to make sure our kids get a great education."
Locally, six Bay Area counties decided jointly last week to extend school closures through May 1. Schools had originally been set to reopen in early April.
Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin said he wasn't surprised by Thurmond's letter, which he received late Tuesday afternoon.
"It was also not a surprise that he stopped short of making a concrete decision," Austin said. "We are hopeful that the governor will make a statement this week that is void of ambiguity."
On Wednesday, Austin, along with 31 other district superintendents in Santa Clara County and the county superintendent, issued a letter to families announcing all county schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year.
With longer school closures becoming a reality in California, districts large and small throughout the state are working to quickly move instruction online in a way that supports all students.
Newsom announced Wednesday that the state is partnering with Mountain View-based Google to provide free mobile Wi-Fi hotspots families in rural parts of the state as well as 4,000 Chromebooks to students in need, with priority to those living in rural areas.
This will help California "substantially address the digital divide issues, the rural issue, the equity issues that are... substantively highlighted during these more difficult times," Newsom said.
Darling-Hammond said that the state school board, California Department of Education and state higher education institutions will issue a joint statement on Wednesday clarifying that colleges have agreed to accept credit/no credit "with no negative impact on students' grade point averages." (Palo Alto Unified announced last week that students would move to a credit/no credit system for the rest of the semester.)
California colleges and universities are agreeing to be flexible when it comes to testing requirements for admissions (SAT and ACT tests have been canceled, while Advanced Placement exams are being offered to students at home), processing transcripts and adjusting financial aid packages as families' circumstances change due to the coronavirus, Darling-Hammond said.
The University of California Board of Regents took a series of actions Tuesday to temporarily relax admission requirements, including suspending the letter grade requirement for A-G courses completed in winter, spring and summer 2020 for all students, including recently admitted seniors; suspending the standardized test requirement for students applying for fall 2021 freshman admission; and stating that no admissions offers will be rescinded if students or schools miss final transcript deadlines.
"We want to help alleviate the tremendous disruption and anxiety that is already overwhelming prospective students due to COVID-19," said John A. Pérez, chair of the Board of Regents. "By removing artificial barriers and decreasing stressors – including suspending the use of the SAT – for this unprecedented moment in time, we hope there will be less worry for our future students."
High school seniors who were on track to graduate before the school closures in California should be able to graduate, Darling-Hammond said. Some school districts are considering holding commencement ceremonies in the fall.
The California Department of Education will also host a webinar with experts and teachers to provide guidance for special education during distance learning on Thursday, April 2, at 3 p.m.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.