All public K-12 schools in Santa Barbara County closed Monday following the announcement of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the county, while school officials began serving meals and preparing laptops for distribution to students.
The first local case of COVID-19 was confirmed Sunday by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. The North County resident in their 60s is recovering in isolation, as health officers attempt to identify those who came in close contact with the individual.
After confirmation of the case, school officials notified families in districts included Santa Maria-Bonita, Santa Maria Joint Union High School, Orcutt Union and Guadalupe that all schools would be closed from Monday through April 3.
The announcement of school closures on Sunday sparked questions from families about school meals, online learning and whether staff would be required to come in to work.
In response, school officials jumped into action to ensure that resources including meals and computers for alternative learning options would be provided to students.
"We are optimistic that we will resume classroom instruction soon, but we will continue to evaluate what is best for our students, staff and community," said Maggie White, spokeswoman for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.
In the Santa Maria-Bonita School district, district staff have been working to dispense computers to students in order for them to continue with schoolwork at home.
"We plan to provide each student with a Chromebook, links to lessons and educational websites, school supplies and materials like workbooks. There will be information about how families can access free Wi-Fi from home," the Santa Maria-Bonita school district announced in a Facebook post Sunday evening.
At Tommie Kunst Junior High, school staff gathered in the library on Monday to prepare over 1,100 Chromebooks and chargers to be handed out to students. Kristin Halter, a district teacher on special assignment, said everyone from custodians to school nurses to janitors had been helping to prepare Chromebooks for distribution.
"It's all hands on deck here. We have everyone pitching in," Halter said.
Between the district schools, there are enough laptops for all 18,000 students in the district, ensuring that all students will be able to keep learning despite school closures, Halter said.
"We know that learning is not going to stop while schools are closed," Halter said.
Chromebooks will be handed out to families beginning Tuesday. At schools such as Bonita Elementary and Arellanes Elementary that are difficult for families to walk to, Halter said staff are discussing the possibility of bus drop-offs for Chromebooks at more accessible locations.
While some school districts are already implementing continued online education for students, others such as the Santa Maria Joint-Union High School district have suspended all lessons while online options are discussed.
Orcutt, Santa Maria Joint-Union, Santa Maria-Bonita and Guadalupe school districts are continuing to offer meals for pick-up while schools are closed.
Students 18 and under may pick up meals at the closest district school and are not required to be part of the meal program. Students must be present with adults who come to pick up meals.
At Ontiveros Elementary School, cafeteria employee Rowena Laura said she had been preparing lunches since 6 a.m., and that she and other volunteers had handed out over 150 lunches to district families between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday.
Those handing out lunches said parents have had to find time in their work schedules to bring their children to pick up meals. Ontiveros Elementary cafeteria employee Yesenia Hernandez said her children are at home while she works, but that fortunately she has help looking after them.
"I'm blessed to have my mom be able to stay [with them]," she said.
The Santa Maria Joint-Union High School District is offering lunch for pick-up as of Monday and breakfast as of Tuesday.
Both breakfast and lunch are available for pick-up at Orcutt Union district schools.
Lunch is available for pick-up at Guadalupe and Santa Maria-Bonita district schools starting Monday. Breakfast will not be available until Wednesday, March 18.
At this time, schools are setting different requirements for staff attendance. School districts have sent emails to district staff members with specific instructions regarding coming into work.
The Santa Maria Joint-Union High School District required all staff to report to work stations Monday, noting plans to assess work schedules early in the week.
At Tommie Kunst Junior High, all staff besides teachers are required to come in to work stations. A number of staff members and volunteers were present Monday to help set up Chromebooks and prepare meals for students.
While private schools do not fall under the jurisdiction of the County Office of Education, many have set similar closure dates for early this week.
St. Joseph High School and St. Louis de Montfort Elementary will close Tuesday, March 17, and remain closed through at least March 31. St. Mary of the Assumption School is closed Monday through at least March 31.
A full list of closure dates for public school districts, private schools and charter schools is available on the County Office of Education website at https://sbceo.org/emergencyinfo-2/
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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