In Santa Clara County, school is out for the rest of the year — sort of
Photo courtesy of Alum Rock Union School District.

Parents grappling with distance learning and homeschooling across Silicon Valley have waited weeks to hear whether local classrooms will reopen before summer. On Wednesday they got an answer: no.

Superintendents across Santa Clara County sent out an email to parents around the region to formally announce that school districts would not reconvene physically this school year.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be classes for the 260,000 students who attend 31 districts in the county, local education officials said Wednesday.

“The remainder of the school year now transitions from in-person classroom instruction to instruction and support for students through distance learning options,” district officials said in a letter to parents Wednesday afternoon. “We will continue to navigate our way through this pandemic locally with the guidance of Dr. Sara Cody and the Santa Clara County Public Health Department so that we can ensure the health and safety of our students and their families as well as for our staff.”

Health officials, including Cody, Santa Clara County’s top health officer, have attempted to slow the spread of the coronavirus through a far-reaching shelter in place order, which has shut down businesses and kept residents inside their homes. As of Wednesday, 956 people had tested positive for the respiratory illness in Santa Clara County and another 32 had died.

The announcement that schools would remain closed came hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom and Tony Thurmond, the state superintendent of public instruction, urged district leaders across the state to gear up for distance learning for the remainder of the year.

Newsom on Wednesday also said he recognized challenges remote classes pose for teachers, students and parents. Even so, he said that based on the state’s modeling of how fast the contagious coronavirus could spread, it is the “right thing” to wait to reconvene regular classes.

The governor on Wednesday announced a major agreement between school employees, including teachers, school boards, superintendents and principals to collaborate on labor and management issues and to provide distance learning to students across the state.

“While schools might be physically closed, class is still in session,” Newsom said. “This agreement is good news for students and parents, and the announcement means that more California kids will have tools to learn at home during this crisis.”

Meanwhile, Mountain View-based Google will offer students free internet through broadband connections and WiFi hotspots at 100,000 locations in California for at least three months and will donate 4,000 Chromebook laptops to students in need.

“Those 100,000 points (of internet access) will help us substantially address the digital divide issues, the rural issues, the equity issues that are at play even in the best of times, but substantively are highlighted in these more difficult times,” Newsom said during a news conference Wednesday.

The California Department of Education will distribute the laptops, prioritizing rural communities, but more investment is needed to fully bridge the digital divide for students across the state, according to the governor’s office.

“I am so proud of every sector of our state — private, public, labor — coming together to meet this moment, and I am calling on other companies to match Google’s investment today to ensure our students and teachers have the resources they need to continue their education during this time,” Newsom said.

The California State PTA on Wednesday stood in support of keeping schools physically closed.

“We concur with the governor that quality distance learning, meals for students, and the care and supervision of children are top priorities in the coming months,” said Celia Jaffe, president of the California State PTA. “Efforts to provide internet access are particularly important for our underserved communities.”

Local districts in the South Bay conceded last week that students won’t return to classrooms before May 1, but hadn’t officially made an announcement that students won’t return before summer break until Wednesday.

Districts in Santa Clara County will provide families with information on things like grading, graduation, transcripts, scholarships and summer school in the coming weeks.

“Our community is strong,” Santa Clara County Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan said in a statement Wednesday. “Together, we will overcome the negative impact of these life-changing events. When school sites re-open, we will enthusiastically welcome back our students, staff and families to our campuses.”

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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