School districts close due to COVID-19
A vast empty parking lot at Imperial Valley College on March 17, what normally would have been a bustling day in the spring semester, is a stark illustration of the impact of the COVID-19 flu pandemic. The college suspended classes effective March 16 in response to an advisory from health officials that social distancing will stem the infection rate. | Corissa Ibarra photo

Closed School Districts Adapt to Feed Child Minds and Tummies

IMPERIAL COUNTY — The COVID-19 flu pandemic has now hit all 50 states in the U.S. and includes Imperial County within its grasp with two confirmed cases, and with more feared local schools were closed March 16.

Yet probably nobody feels the impact more than a parent. Kristy Curry is the mother of two sons; Carsen in fifth grade at Sunflower Elementary School and Ethan in third grade at Harding Elementary School, both in El Centro. She also is an assistant superintendent of the El Centro Elementary School District.

“Right now, it’s still new and feels like spring break,” said Curry. “They’re happy because they get to spend a lot of time with their grandfather, my dad, who’s offering a lot of support.”

Curry is negotiating with her sons to put in a least three hours a day with online assignments they received in a packet provided by their teachers.

“We keep up with new directives with the district’s Facebook page,” said Curry. “Also Teleparent (robo calls) informs us of any changes in the Public Health Department’s guidelines.

Despite being on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis, Curry explained she does not feel under pressure.

“I see myself a government employee,” she said. “It’s my civic duty.”

Other Districts Coordinate Emergency Plans

At the Calexico Unified School District regular meeting March 12, the topic of COVID-19 was not included on the agenda yet Superintendent Carlos Gonzales said he dedicated time to outline the response to the health threat.

CUSD met with all site administrators to find out their concerns and what they need to do to connect with everybody.

“We put in safety measures so students and staff are secure,” said Gonzales. “It’s a fluid and rapidly changing situation. Older people and people with heart disease, lung disease and diabetes seem to be at a greater risk of serious illness.”

Some of those plans became moot days later when the countywide school closure through April 17 was announced jointly by the Imperial County Office of Education and local school district superintendents. This occurred despite no reports of students or school staff having the virus.

“During the time of the school closure, we are asking that students and families follow the County Public Health Officer’s recommendation to stay home and minimize social contact,” the announcement stated. “While children have not been a high-risk group, they are still able to transmit the virus to those who are most vulnerable to serious illness, such as older adults and those with compromised immune systems. We understand this closure will be disruptive, yet we appreciate your patience and cooperation.”

IVC Closes

As far as Imperial Valley College is concerned it canceled classroom instruction effective March 16 as well.

“We plan to be closed at a minimum until April 20, 2020; however, the date may change based on the development of COVID-19,” stated Martha Garcia, college superintendent/president.

“Also, student services is working to convert all service to online, if feasible,” Garcia added. “We recognize that some students lack the technology needed to work online, and we are trying to address that need as well but it will last until the closure ends.”

IVC recognizes this situation is rapidly evolving and must be flexible, the statement added.

“We are in communication with our community college colleagues in San Diego, San Diego State, Imperial Valley Campus, and Imperial County K-12 school districts to keep each other informed,” Garcia added.

High Schools Formulate Preparedness Plans

At the secondary level, schools are doing all they can during the closure to provide ongoing educational and nutritional services, explained Ward Andrus, superintendent of Central Union High School District. They are also concerned for family members that have to work and may not have child care.

“Schools do more than just educate children and are a vital part of our society,” said Andrus. “Teachers are preparing curriculum to be posted into our Google Classrooms. They have been preparing for a few days. They are receiving training to make the best out of the situation. Sack lunches and a breakfast for the next day (and remainder of the closure) will be available for pick up from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily. They (recipients) do not need to be a student of the district, but only for a child up to age 18.”

Holtville Unified School district is also conducting online lessons with Google Classroom, explained Principal Anthony Arevalo of Holtville High School. He noted the morning of March 17 a social studies teacher told him he posted a real-time video of a classroom lesson and it worked just as a regular classroom.

“Students asked a lot of questions and didn’t want to log off, very engaged,” said Arevalo. “Students are enthusiastically involved and thus far online classes are working just fine.

Meal Service for the Underserved

Holtville Unified is also operating a free meal program during the campus closure in the same “grab and go” mode in which parents can pick up sack breakfast from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for any young person in the county 18 and under. The locations are Holtville High and Finely Elementary.

Similar to the aforementioned meal programs, El Centro Elementary is conducting a drive-thru meal program for any students 18 and under at five school sites: Harding, Hedrick, McKinley, MLK Jr. and Washington Schools, explained Assistant Superintendent Curry.

Children must accompany parents to receive the meals. Service is 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. They get a sack lunch as well as next day’s breakfast and a carton of milk. All cafeteria employees are health screened each day before interacting with the public.

“It was very well received,” said Curry, who helped distribute meals. “It was orderly and quick and since it was spread over two hours, no traffic logjams. I was at the busiest site, Harding, where we served 247 meals and 806 for all sites.”

The El Centro district also sent home instructional packets to keep students immersed in the curriculum. Packets provide enrichment activities parents can engage with children to keep minds challenged during the closure. Third- to eighth-grade students took home a Chromebook. It is a tablet running with most applications and data residing on the cloud rather than on the machine itself.

“So they can also connect with online lessons recommended in their packets,” said Curry. “There will be no need to extend the school year under the current guidelines but it’s a fluid situation as per the Public Health Department. All this is part of my job so I enjoy helping the community.

This story is featured in the Mar 19, 2020 e-Edition.

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