San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) and Redlands Unified School District (RUSD) each held emergency board of education meetings to close their schools for one week in addition to their respective two-week spring breaks to prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19. As of Wednesday, March 18, schools for both districts are scheduled for closure from March 16 to April 6.
Following the voluntary closures of most California schools and new developments, Gov. Gavin Newsom stated during an online press conference on Tuesday, March 17, that it is unlikely schools will reopen before the end of the school year. He also stated that California has applied for a federal waiver of academic testing.
SBCUSD and RUSD were each scheduled to end the school year the first week of June.
SBCUSD board made its decision to close on Friday, March 13, while RUSD followed with a similar decision made on Saturday, March 14.
SBCUSD closed its campuses one-week prior to its two-week break, which is scheduled for March 23 to April 6. RUSD began its spring break on Monday, March 16, but the board voted to keep campuses closed one week following end of the break, March 30 to April 6.
Students are encouraged to stay home during the time off.
The districts notified families and staff via announcements of the districts’ websites (sbcusd.com and redlandsusd.net), their district apps, social media platforms and automated phone calls.
While making its decision on the closure, the SBCUSD board discussed the consequences of closure and possible measures to mitigate negative effects on families, particularly low-income families.
Boardwoman Abigail Medina stressed that loss of income due to unexpected need for childcare will hit low-income families hardest and could possibly cause homelessness.
Medina motioned that rather than cancel a week of school in addition to spring break that the district move spring break to one week earlier. The district could then revisit canceling classes as spring break neared its end.
Deputy Superintendent Harold Vollkommer advised that that could not be done due to legal agreements with workforce unions and a legally binding school calendar.
With that, a motion was made and seconded to cancel school for the week of March 16-20. It passed unanimously, 6-0 (Boardwoman Margaret Hill was absent).
The district continued to offer meals to students who rely on school meals for their daily nutrition. Meals were served at the students’ home schools.
For SBCUSD, 88.5 percent of the district’s students are socio-economically disadvantaged and benefit from free or reduced meals⎯breakfast, lunch and, for those in the CAPS afterschool program, a “supper snack.” Some schools have as high as 90 percent of its student population on the meals program.
Childcare was another major concern as having students at home could cause loss of income for parents. Emergency childcare was also offered at schools during the week of March 16-20.
Meals and childcare will not be supplied during the spring break, which is the usual practice.
On Tuesday, March 17, the state passed Senate Bill 117 to offer emergency funds to school districts in support of childcare and other emergency programs. It also provides $100 million in one-time Proposition 98 general funds for local agencies to cover the cost of lost average daily attendance. These funds can be used by districts for additional labor and supply costs associated with cleaning schools sites.
Both districts will be cleaning and sterilizing the school campuses during the cancellation and spring break. District staffs will continue to be paid.
“We have been and will continue to monitor this situation on a daily basis and will continue to make decisions in order to protect the health and safety of our students, our staff and our broader community,” said RUSD Superintendent Mauricio Arellano.
“To me the decision is easy. The governor advised canceling gatherings of 250 people or more,” said SBCUSD Boardman Danny Tillman. “Our whole goal is to save people’s lives and there will be consequences to doing that.”
“Fear can cause people to do lots of different things and we can explain it away this way. When people are fearful rational decision-making doesn’t always rule the day. My personal thinking is that the economic impacts are faraway going to outweigh the virus impacts,” said SBCUSD Boardman Michael Gallo, recalling the H1N1 pandemic. “I’d hate to play into hysteria and fear, which I feel we support with this decision, but I also don’t want someone to die.”
There were several community comments during the SBCUSD meeting, most in support of closing the schools. RUSD Board of Education made its decision during closed session.
Tim Prince, an attorney in the city of San Bernardino, pled with the SBCUSD board not to make this decision prematurely as it could prolong disastrous effects to the city.
“Think of the impact if every district took this action prematurely. We are not a wealthy community, the economic impacts would be devastating,” Tim Prince said. “This could be a long fight. Businesses will struggle for months.”