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Clovis Unified School District trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to keep schools closed through May 22 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and to maintain distance learning until then.

The May 22 date was a revision of an initial recommendation to keep schools closed through June 5, the end of the school year. That recommendation was presented to the board at the closed session that preceded the public meeting.

Trustee Ginny Hovsepian questioned whether the reopening could be as early as May 15. If health officials deemed that date too risky by early May, the trustees could revise the reopening date at the May 5 board meeting, she said.

Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell said that May 22 was selected in part because it would be the end of a three-week curriculum segment and also the end of new instruction for the district’s 44,000 students.

The final two weeks of the school year are used for make-up work, textbook return and other end-of-year activities, she said.

Not ‘Throwing in The Towel’

The trustees agreed that they wanted to allow students to return to school as soon as it is safe to do so, and opposed “throwing in the towel” prematurely, as board president Chris Casado phrased it.

Unlike other districts in the area, Clovis Unified has been “taking it in small steps and not committing to writing off the school year like some districts have done,” Casado said.

Trustees of other area districts such as Fresno Unified, Central Unified, Sanger Unified, and Madera Unified already had made their decisions to keep schools closed through the end of the school year.

All districts have shifted to distance learning models, which include online classes and office hours with teachers as well as paper packets of lessons for students.

Fresno-area schools closed March 16. Trustees voted initially to keep them closed through each district’s spring break, which ended in early to mid-April. In subsequent votes at each district, trustees voted to extend the closures until May 4.

Reopening Date Changed Several Times

But as the number of COVID-19 patients continued to climb and as pressure mounted over the need for Californians to stay home, trustees at most of the Fresno-area school districts opted to extend the closings through the end of the school year.

Clovis Unified, however, preferred to wait to make a decision until Wednesday night’s board meeting so trustees would have more up-to-date information and recommendations from county and state health officials.

Spokeswoman Kelly Avants said the district had several options to consider: Opening schools on May 4 with the same schedules as on March 13; opening schools on staggered schedules; opening schools at the end of the school year so students could return textbooks and pick up yearbooks; or keeping schools closed through the end of the school year.

Trustees acknowledged Wednesday night that if the schools were to reopen, some parents might not want to send their children back as long as the coronavirus is still a virulent threat.

Class of 2020 Will Miss Traditions

During the public comment period of the meeting, Clovis High teacher Joni Sumter, whose children attend Clovis Unified schools and who herself is a Clovis Unified graduate, urged the board to consider reopening schools before the end of the school year and not to deny the traditions of graduation for the Class of 2020 that have been enjoyed by generations of graduates.

Unlike some districts, Clovis Unified students don’t “graduate” from kindergarten or the eighth grade, Sumter said. Their only graduation comes after 13 years of hard work and is an important milestone in their live, she added.

O’Farrell said that a Fresno County health official told her that restrictions on mass gatherings are unlikely to be lifted by early June, when graduations traditionally occur.

The district has reserved a venue for later in the summer for a tentative graduation commemoration that will depend on whether it will be safe to do so, she said.

But in the meantime, district officials have been brainstorming a variety of ways in which the Class of 2020 can celebrate their graduation, O’Farrell said.

Safety Is No. 1

But Brooke Conley, who identified herself as an Army medic, urged the board not to jeopardize the safety of students as well as staff and their families by reopening schools too soon.

Conley, who spoke to the board by telephone, said that Valley children are testing positive for COVID-19 at twice the rate of other children in California and the rest of the nation.

“Safety still needs to be our first concern,” she said.

Trustee Steven Fogg, an ophthalmologist, cautioned the trustees about not maintaining appropriate social distancing, which he predicts could go on for months, if not years.

Until more COVID-19 testing is available,  “everyone needs to be treated as if they are infected,” and that includes every child, he said.

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