Kern County Superintendent of Schools is constructing a plan to provide services to students throughout Kern while schools are temporarily closed for the next month, KCSOS said during a press conference Monday morning.
This announcement comes after KCSOS announced Sunday all 47 school districts in Kern are required to close by March 18 in response to COVID-19. Kern County Superintendent of Schools Mary Barlow said the districts are working together to provide services and have created four task forces to do so. These task forces address continued learning, access to meals, access to technology and devices, and staffing.
“We want to mitigate the impact this school closure will have on students in Kern County,” Barlow said. “We are making local decisions based on local needs.”
KCSOS announced Sunday all on-site instruction will be suspended beginning March 18 through April 14. The decision was made to limit transmission, to provide early identification and to identify those that need further care, according to Matt Constantine, the director of Kern County Public Health Services.
As of Monday, Kern County had no positive cases of COVID-19, according to Constantine. There are 335 confirmed cases in California and six deaths as of March 15.
Barlow said the school closure will be difficult for many families that do not have access to the necessities, such as meals and internet. An estimated 73 percent of children in Kern are eligible for free meals, according to Barlow, and nearly 33 percent live in poverty.
“We serve a different population here in Kern County,” she said. “Few children have access to devices for learning, internet connectivity, and many are relying on schools to provide services, such as meals, counseling and special education services.”
Cecilia Estrada has a son who attends Pauly Elementary. She said she is happy her son will be home for preventative purposes.
“I know that they are at high risk because it’s a large number of students at the school, and some parents don’t keep them home when they should, and that’s when germs spread,” Estrada said.
She said her son will have access to the necessities to continue to learn; however, she knows this isn’t the case for all families.
This is where the task forces come in. KCSOS Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Lisa Gilbert is leading the continue learning task force, which will create learning programs for the students during the closure.
“Research has shown us when we have summer breaks, on average students lose a month’s worth of learning,” Gilbert said at the press conference. “We want to combat that learning loss as much as possible.”
KCSOS is creating packets, both available in Spanish and English in print and online, that will keep the students learning during their time away from school. These packets will focus on math and language arts.
Parent Sandra Lopez worries her children will fall behind due to the closure.
“Who will my kids reach out to if they need help or have questions with their school work,” Lopez said. “I imagine it won’t be the same without the teacher present.”
The continued learning task force is working with an online learning platform to offer “high-quality digital lessons,” Gilbert said. Teachers, parents, and students will have access to the platform, which will allow for all parties to communicate when needed.
KCSOS is also creating a task force to address access to the internet and devices to continue learning. The task force is working to ensure students have access to these school necessities by providing devices such as computers and remote connectivity. The team has discussed different options, one including providing internet on buses and parking then in rural areas.
Lopez says she only has one computer at home for her three children to share.
“I think it was a good idea to cancel school to avoid spreading the virus,” she said. “I just want to make sure that resources are available to those of us who need it.”
Barlow estimates 40 percent of students in Kern do not have access to the internet or a device. KCSOS issued a survey to students on Monday to get exact numbers, which will help when it comes time to distribute devices and to determine which locations need internet access.
In the meantime, printed packets will be sent homes for students to continue learning.
Estrada, who has a daughter who attends Bakersfield High School, said her daughter’s teachers sent home Monday a month’s worth of school work.
The meal services task force will continue to provide meals to families, just as schools do in the summer; however, KCSOS said it will deliver meals to different areas throughout Kern in a grab-and-go fashion following the first day of the closure: March 18. This will limit the potential of transmission.
Lopez said she will take advantage of the meals program because there is not much food left at the grocery stores.
The meals are for students ages 18 years and below.
Constantine said he hopes the closure of schools across the state will provide more information on how the disease is transmitted and intervention strategies.