LBUSD to close schools for more than a month

Long Beach Unified is shutting down its schools for the next five weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, district officials announce Friday.

LBUSD will close all of its campuses, which serve more than 72,000 students, starting Monday. Officials plan on reopening them April 20 after the district’s regularly scheduled spring break.

The decision came hours after the school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego—the two largest in the state—announced they were closing their campuses.

“The closure is an extra measure of protection to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19,” officials said. “We do not have any presumptive or confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in our schools, but we are taking this step to help protect public health.”

LBUSD said it is still exploring ways to keep educating students and providing meals for those who rely on school food programs. District spokesman Chris Eftychiou previously said the district would try to keep kids learning at home through assignment packets or online tools.

“We are facing an unprecedented health crisis in our community, and new information is surfacing rapidly,” the district said in its announcement. “It is likely our community will be seeing many more cases of COVID-19 in the coming weeks and months and this will require a measured, sustained response.”

The district said students should stay home and try to minimize social contact.

“We will be sharing more detailed information as soon as possible about how families can support student learning during school closures,” the LBUSD said.

Officials recommend families avoid leaving children with elderly people who are more vulnerable to the impact of the virus.

“Students should stay home and minimize social contact as much as possible to keep caregivers and adult family members safe,” the district said. “Children have not been shown to be a high-risk group for serious illness from this virus. However, they can transmit the virus to those most vulnerable.”

Mayor Robert Garcia said the city is working with the school district to set up ways “to continue the learning process, and to provide meals for our students who rely on them. We are considering what, if any, childcare options we can extend to families during this unplanned closure.”

A majority of LBUSD students qualify for the state’s free or reduced lunch program, with some schools having as many as 80% of students who utilize it.

Kelly Colopy, director of the city’s health department, told business leaders on Friday morning that the free lunch program with LBUSD will continue and include drop sites around the city for meals. Health and Human Services are working on setting it up to be in place by the middle of next week. The city is working with the community foundation to setup emergency relief funds to pay for it, she said.

If online classwork is required, it’s likely some students would not be able to complete it. According to the city, 12% of youth in Long Beach don’t have internet access at home. 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,” Chris Callopy, executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, previously said. “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 also noted the impact it could have on the huge working class and large foster youth populations in the city.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education has also directed all schools in the county to close, effective Monday, March 16, amid ongoing concerns over the new coronavirus, according to multiple school districts.

The county department, the largest regional education agency in the nation, on Friday morning, March 13, asked all districts to keep schools closed until March 27, according to Torrance Unified and Walnut Valley Unified school districts.

This story is developing.

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