LBUSD isn’t closing its classrooms yet—but that could change quickly

Editor’s note: After this story was published, school officials announced they would close LBUSD campuses until April 20. Read more here.

With local universities and colleges moving classes online to stem the spread of the coronavirus, it may only be a matter of time before Long Beach Unified School District follows suit.

City officials say a total of four patients in Long Beach have tested positive for the coronavirus and they are monitoring 50 other people. They all came into contact with other infected people outside the city.

In Los Angeles County, 28 people have tested positive for the virus and on Wednesday morning, county officials announced a woman in her 60s died shortly after being hospitalized for the coronavirus.

In the announcement of the fourth case in Long Beach, health officials said they are not recommending the closures of schools or other public facilities because the immediate threat to the general public is low in the United States.

“The school district remains in close touch with health agencies, who in conjunction with LBUSD leadership would help to make decisions about the scope and duration of any school closure, should such an action become necessary,” LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou said in a statement. “School is still one of the safest places for children to be, and we realize that closing school could present significant challenges for our communities, and particularly for working parents.”

Eftychiou said if school closures do happen, the district would try to keep kids learning at home through assignment packets or online tools.

The state health and education departments released new guidelines on Saturday with separate lists of scenarios for schools, colleges or universities and large public events. Right now, Long Beach does not fall under any of the scenarios where the state recommends closures, but that doesn’t mean things can’t rapidly change.

The state is recommending that districts may consider closure (in consultation with their local health departments) if one student, teacher or staff member tests positive for coronavirus, also know as COVID-19, and exposes others at the school.

“It’s a question of when— not if— some California public schools will face closure because of COVID-19,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a written statement. “School districts must prepare for these scenarios so that parents and children can plan for what would happen if their local school faced closure.”

Some parents are hoping for school closures sooner rather than later, but other parents are nervous about how they would be able to care for their children while going to work.

“Crossing my fingers my employer would allow me to work from home,” said one parent in a comment online. “I’ll have to find childcare for my 6-year-old,” said another. “Lose my job,” said one mom. One parent said they had paid time off and would stay home with their kids.

Several simply said, “Cry.”

Mollie Diaz, a stay-at-home mom of a Long Beach fourth grader, is concerned the schools aren’t doing enough to keep students from spreading the virus.

“We have family in other states and they’ve already shut the schools down for a day to do a deep clean. That’s something that would make me feel better,” Diaz said. “What measures are they actually taking to keep the schools less germ infested?”

Other parents are worried about how their kids would be able to do any online assignments, should they be required to do them.

“We only have one computer at home,” said Hannah Kurish, a mother of two teenage girls in Long Beach. She said neither of her daughters’ schools provide laptops or Chromebooks for students. She’s also concerned about her daughters possibly bringing home the virus as carriers, since she has an autoimmune disorder and would be in danger if she contracted coronavirus.

“As annoying as it would be to have them home and trying to figure it out, I would rather them be home to help stop the virus rather than operate under the status quo,” Kurish said.

According to the city, 12% of youth in Long Beach don’t have internet access at home, furthering the concern of students possibly being required to do online coursework. For families where the parents can’t afford to stay home from work or are not able to work from home, school closures would put them in a tough position.

“It’s gonna be tragic,” said Chris Callopy, executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach. “I’m really concerned that parents are going to be forced to leave really young children at home because their employer doesn’t have paid sick leave or childcare available.”

He noted the impact it could have on the huge working class and large foster youth populations in the city.

If LBUSD does decide to close school doors, the district would declare a state of emergency—much like Los Angeles Unified School District did on Tuesday—and get approval from the state, he said. With that declaration, schools would still be able to get state funding for the days they are closed, much like in the event of a natural disaster, Callopy said.

LBUSD has had to do that before during extreme heat days where schools are let out early. In that event, teachers would still be paid their salaries, he said.

But substitute teachers would be out of luck if schools shut down, since they are paid based on what days they work and do not have the same benefits as full-time teachers.

“(If the schools shut down), my livelihood is cut off,” said a substitute teacher who asked their name not be shared because they’re concerned about professional backlash. “I’m already not paid for spring break and other holidays, I prepare for that, but I can’t prepare for this.”

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.
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