Mayor Robert Garcia, Long Beach Unified School District superintendent Christopher Steinhauser and Long Beach Department of Health & Human Services (LBDHHS)’s Dr. Anissa Davis held a press conference giving a COVID-19 update regarding LBUSD on Friday, March 13, after the announcement that LBUSD would be canceling schools for five weeks amid coronavirus concerns.
LBUSD decided to close schools beginning Monday, March 16, and resume on Monday, April 20. In total, students will have 19 days of instruction outside the school building, since the closure includes the district’s spring recess from April 13 to 17.
Steinhauser reassured residents that while currently the school district does not have any presumptive or confirmed cases of coronavirus in their schools, the closure is being taken as an extra measure of protection to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus to protect the public’s health.
“This was a very difficult decision, schools are an essential service to our families and our charter community and we are the largest employer in the city of Long Beach,” said Steinhauser.
Currently LBUSD has over 10,000 employees.
The district will move the learning process to online services and traditional textbooks and packages, today they allowed all students to take home their core textbooks.
Steinhauser mentioned that daily online videos will also be sent out to both students and parents.
With over 71,800 students enrolled from Pre-K to High School in 85 schools, 70% of those children living in poverty, LBUSD provides meals for over 50,000 students a year.
“We are currently doing plans to ensure that students can have access to meals twice a day at every school throughout the school district next week,” Stainhauser said.
Every school will offer breakfast, as a grab-and-go program– the students will not be eating on campus– from 8am to 9am for breakfast and from 11:30am to 1pm for lunch.
The program will be reevaluated after the next week.
“We’ll be working with the regional and state partners to ensure that this empire enclosure does not affect our students academic standing.”
Staff with the exception of hourly employees will remain in paid status and will be expected to check in with the school district and respond via email on a daily basis.
“Our school district will have many departments working during our closure in schools, unless we’re notified by the Long Beach Department of Health to change this plan, these departments include staff who will be cleaning schools, serving and transporting meals, and continue to operate many of our centralized functions,” Steinhauser said.
All custodial staff will be working Monday to start to disinfect schools.
Steinhauser noted that the only times he could remember the school district taking such drastic actions was in 1932 when over half of the school district’s schools were destroyed in an earthquake, the civil unrest of the 90’s when LBUSD closed for at least a week, Avalon School closing once in 2002 for a week, and now, 19 days with COVID-19.
When asked about services offered to disabled students, Steinhauser said, “Students with IDP’s will continue with services through various means and if the students, for example, needed to have an extended time for the year because let’s say five days were missed for whatever reason, they would be continued to what we call our ESY program which is summer school.”
Regarding any childcare options available to working families, Steinhauser said, “Not in Long Beach Unified, we had to make this tough decision because it would kind of conflict with the whole issue of social isolation, so we chose not to do that at this time.”
Garcia added, “We understand, the city, that one of the biggest challenges with closing schools as we’ve all discussed, is the parents that are low income, that have to work and don’t have access to childcare so we understand the huge challenge when we were talking through, but the decision was made, first and foremost, as a health decision for the health of everybody.”
Regarding accessibility of online learning programs for students without internet, “Currently in Long Beach Unified around 80% of our students have internet access. There are about 12% that do not, so we do have some hotspots that students can use and we are exploring other options for them to be very honest with you,” Steinhauser said.
Currently students do a lot of online learning now through Khan Academy, Google and so on, but the district will be spending the next week looking at other options with some other organizations where students may not need internet access, for example, TV.
“That’s why there’s the importance of having the books and other, you know, older materials such as print, available to everybody,” said Steinhaser.
As for students submitting things online, Steinhauser said, “For example, material online can be submitted online, things can be scanned if they needed to or they could be handed in at the end when we come back.”
Regarding the digital divide within students, “No student’s going to be punished because they don’t have certain accommodations or because work might not be getting turned in exactly at the appropriate time,” Steinhauser said.
Further information on these developments will be forthcoming from the schools and will be communicated through various means including the school district’s website. LBSchools.net., individual school websites, email, phone messages, social media, Schoolloop and online videos in the coming days.
“The community should be aware that this is a very evolving situation and so things are changing quite rapidly, and so expect more announcements as they relate to other closures,” concluded Garcia.