Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education will decide whether to declare a state of emergency in response to the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, on Tuesday, according to a news release. The district was also assuring families that there is no known connection between any individuals infected with COVID-19 and any of its schools.
The announcement followed Los Angeles County’s decision to declare a public health emergency on March 4. After the county’s announcement, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California following the state’s first COVID-19 related death as a measure to free up federal and state funding to combat the spread of the virus.
L.A. County Public Health Department announced the county’s first case of community transmission of the virus on Monday. In total, there are 19 Angelinos with COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Statewide, there have been 133 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death related to the virus.
In response to the growing number of cases, LAUSD included information about COVID-19 on its website. As a precautionary measure, the district has asked its staff to cancel all out of state travel.
In Riverside County, Murrieta Valley High School was closed and cleaned Monday after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. A number of colleges, including Stanford University, have also sent their students home. As of Tuesday, no LAUSD school has been shut down.
“County health officials have told Los Angeles Unified...that it is safe for all schools to remain open on a normal schedule,” said LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner in a March 4 news release.
Parents say that school closures would place a tremendous burden on them and the community in general.
“I can’t imagine all the parents, kids will have to stay longer with babysitters and stuff like that,” said Claudia Campos, who has a 6-year-old son in first grade at Vermont Avenue Elementary School. “It will have a huge impact on the community if they decided to do something like that. We’re hoping we don’t have to get to that point.”
Annenberg Media reached out to LAUSD officials multiple times for comment about the precautionary measures the district was taking and the possibility of future school closures, but they declined to give a statement.
As the potential of school cancelations loom over LAUSD, some parents are ready to take extra steps in order to keep their children on track academically.
“[I’m] preparing with books and teaching material so that she continues to learn,” said Sulem Torres, a parent at Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary. “[I’ll be] asking the teachers to prepare in case that happens so that the children can have the appropriate materials at the house.”
Steve Moore, an LAUSD parent with children at Purche Avenue Elementary School in Gardena isn’t opposed to the possibility of school shutdowns if it becomes necessary to protect students.
“I have talked to my kids about taking extra steps in washing their hands or touching, but if keeping children safe involves closing school I’m definitely not opposed to it,” said Moore who has a seven-year-old daughter and 10-year-old twins.
Some industry professionals predict that if COVID-19 continues spreading, schools in L.A. will likely see more school closures. Gregory Stevens, a children’s health expert at USC Keck, said parents should be prepared.
“I would say that every family should try to have back-up childcare arrangements in the event of a school closure,” Stevens said in an email to Annenberg Media. “I think that if Los Angeles experiences a relatively high prevalence of coronavirus, we may indeed see schools closed for a few weeks to even a month or longer.”
Since school closures have become a topic of conversation, food insecurity has become a serious concern for low-income families who depend on the “free and reduced-price” meal programs that their children receive at school.
These meal services will continue, according to a news release by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The federal department approved a request from the California Department of Education to continue these meal services during possible school closures. The meal plan will remain in effect and be available through June 30 regardless of whether schools are closed.
“The flexibility provided by the waiver approved today will help ensure that our children get wholesome meals, safeguarding their health during times of need,” said Brandon Lipps, the Deputy Under Secretary for USDA’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services.
LAUSD has a hotline open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for district parents. The number for the hotline is 213-443-1300.