There are no plans now to close classrooms at Fresno-area public schools and colleges to stem a potential spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but officials say they are monitoring health advisories from county, state and federal agencies for recommendations.
As of now, the California Department of Public Health is recommending that districts consider closing schools only after a student or staffer tests positive and may have exposed others at the school. If there are coronavirus patients who are sickened by means other than community transmission, such as the two Fresno and Madera counties residents who were exposed while aboard a cruise ship, schools can remain open.
Officials considering closures are having to weigh potential public health risks against other factors, such as how schoolchildren could get their lessons without access to a virtual classroom, and whether college students would risk losing financial aid if they are unable to complete coursework.
“The impact of closing a school is incalculable especially when many of our parents have jobs with limited or no childcare, and over 70% of our students who face food insecurity will not have our meals and snacks available to them during a closing,” Central Unified spokeswoman Sonja Dosti said Tuesday.
Robots To Invade Convention Center
Meanwhile, there are no plans to cancel the 9th annual Central Valley Regional competition of the FIRST Robotics Competition that will bring more than 1,250 high school students and their robots to the Fresno Convention Center, including students from Elk Grove Unified School District.
Elk Grove, the state’s fifth-largest district, closed its schools after a family was exposed to the virus. However, the district later reinstated student participation in athletic and academic events.
The robotics competition has issued a series of precautions for the competition: Teams and volunteers should bring their own safety glasses, and no high-fiving at the awards ceremony. Instead of the traditional handshakes between competitors in the final two alliances, “students can bow, wave, dance, etc. across the field from one another.”
As of Tuesday, the Fresno County Department of Public Health says there is no immediate threat to the general public and no recommendations to close schools or cancel events.
“The FCDPH has plans in place to inform and protect all residents, limit exposures to any new cases if identified, and address concerns as they arise,” the website reports, adding, “This is a rapidly evolving situation, and information will be updated as it becomes available.”
Fresno, Clovis, and Central unified school districts, State Center Community College District, Fresno Pacific University, and Fresno State have initiated efforts to deep-clean facilities, including door knobs and hand rails, on a daily basis. In addition, K-12 students are being educated about the importance of thorough hand-washing — and being given more time to do it.
Online Classes Not Available To All
If an outbreak should occur in the Fresno area, Clovis Unified could provide online instruction to students and has plans to do so if necessary, spokeswoman Kelly Avants said. But that’s a last-resort option, since not every child has access to the internet or a computer in their home, she said.
Central Unified and Fresno Unified do not have that option, but officials are discussing a number of alternatives, said Dosti and Fresno Unified spokeswoman Amy Idsvoog.
Depending on how circumstances develop, Dosti said, Central Unified could opt to cancel field trips or larger events. District officials are in close contact with neighboring districts, “knowing that if anything happens in their districts or ours, there’s a potential ripple effect throughout the city,” she said.
Fresno Unified officials are preparing for numerous scenarios in the event that more people are sickened in the area, Idsvoog said. Closing the district’s schools would be the “last resort — and one we’re preparing for should that be the only viable option downstream.”
While some universities such as Ohio State have closed outright and others such as Stanford and Berkeley have shifted to “virtual classrooms,” Fresno-area colleges and universities are staying open for now. The California University System is urging campuses such as Fresno State to be prepared shift to online classes.
Fresno Pacific administrators are meeting this week to consider contingency plans in the event of an outbreak, spokesman Wayne Steffens said. The university will be closed March 9-13 for spring break.
Some travel has been canceled or is being rescheduled, he said:
- Fresno Pacific canceled the Symphonic Band’s trip to the College Band Directors National Association Western/Northwestern Division Conference in Tacoma, Wash. later this month. The event itself was later canceled.
- The university is rescheduling a trip in May for MBA students from Singapore and Malaysia to another location, with details still being worked out.
No Trip to Italy This Summer
State Center postponed a speaker who was coming from an area with several reported cases of COVID-19 and also canceled a Study Abroad trip to Italy this summer, spokeswoman Lucy Ruiz said.
The district is seeking flexibility in regulations for class hours and student financial aid so students can retain their eligibility, she said. In some cases, classes can be taught online, but that won’t work for classes such as labs and practicum courses, Ruiz said.
Education officials are having a weekly briefing with the Fresno County Department of Public Health to stay on top of current developments, and will make necessary operational changes as necessary to keep students and staff safe, Ruiz said.
Because of the district’s vast size, officials could decide to close some campuses but leave others open, she said.
At Fresno State, students, faculty, and staff are being advised to rethink their spring break travel plans — especially if they’re considering heading outside the U.S. Some countries are closing their borders with little notice, and travelers may find themselves in a two-week self-quarantine if they are exposed to the virus.
To see the latest data on coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide, go to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center site.