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Superintendent shares details on school closings, next steps

‘People are scared, and good information  helps prevent the spread of panic.’ — Dr. Richard Rogers, MCSD superintendent
‘People are scared, and good information 
helps prevent the spread of panic.’
— Dr. Richard Rogers,
MCSD superintendent

Due to the spread of the coronavirus, 4 million students statewide are staying home from school.

Locally, all 20 school districts in Merced County have made the decision together to close campus sites from March 19 through April 17.

That’s about 11,500 students heading home and remaining away until classes reopen on April 20, after Spring Break.

“The primary mission in closing the schools is to protect the children by isolating them at home,” said Dr. Richard “Al” Rogers, superintendent of the Merced City School District. “The virus is running throughout communities and throughout the world. Our schools are a place where kids are in close proximity with others, and this gives an opportunity for the virus to spread exponentially.

“The CDC recommends social distancing. However, it’s hard to do social distancing when you have a classroom full of kids. We can’t have all those people in one location. We need them to be home so they can be isolated and protected and prevent the spread of the virus.”

Rogers said the district is now emphasizing “enrichment” for students.

“We’re providing things that will be engaging, but we’re not providing homework. It is a temporary closure, so the district is providing an enrichment opportunity. This is part of the packet teachers have been handing out to students.”

The superintendent confirmed there has been talk of more online education

“Statewide, you can anticipate a stronger conversation about distance learning,” he said. “I know that is one of the governor’s priorities, as well as the state superintendent of Public Instruction. Distance learning is more online kinds of resources, such as an Internet-based curriculum for robust interaction and meaningful content and possibly with skilled instructors.

“Locally, the district is providing grade-level appropriate curriculum resources free, and we have online free curriculum available on our website that can be accessed through a desktop, laptop or mobile phone.

The website also has resources for parents and students to help them understand what is known about the coronavirus.

Dr. Rogers was asked if he has come across many situations where children and their grandparents live in the same home, which could be a problem since those over the age of 65 are also being asked to stay home.

“Children living with their grandparents is a fact of life,” he responded. “It’s very common throughout ours and most communities.

“Governor Gavin Newsom has asked that the 65 and older crowd isolate themselves and stay home. The question of how families handle situations where children and their grandparents both live in the same home, or where grandparents are the caregivers of children while their parents work, is complicated. It’s difficult to keep children away from their grandparents.”

Rogers said the district will continue to provide meals for students during the closure.

“We are feeding the kids,” he said. “The majority of our students rely on the school as a place to access meals. We provide 13,000 meals — 4,000 or 5,000 breakfasts and 8,000 lunches every day.

“From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday during the closure, parents can go to any of our school sites and get free breakfasts and/or free lunches, and pick-up additional curriculum for their students.

Meanwhile, Rogers said all campuses will undergo a deep cleaning.

“A major undertaking during the closure will be to shut down the campuses. There will be no access to the campuses except for essential personnel, those engaged in the deep cleaning of our facilities so that we get all possible traces of the virus eliminated. No services will be taking place at the school sites other than the cleaning.”

What should parents do if they or their children exhibit coronavirus symptoms?

Said Rogers, “The advice we have been given is if anyone is exhibiting symptoms, like coughing, they be encouraged to stay home. It’s unfortunate that this situation coincides with allergy season.

“As far as testing for the virus, there are 19 active labs throughout the State of California. Lots of samples are being taken throughout Merced, and what happens is they send them directly to those labs to be tested.

“People are scared, and good information helps prevent the spread of panic.

“It is encouraging that there are initial reports of China’s curve flattening out. We’re increasing our ability to test quickly, while also preventing community spread.”

Teachers and staff

Joey Horta, the public information officer for the Merced City School District, this week addressed an important concern about the Merced City School District employees’ finances during the closure.

“Teachers and staff members will be paid as usual through the closure period,” he explained. “No one will lose their pay. We don’t have any plans of extending the school year for the time missed.”

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