Mijares: OC superintendent issues statement in support of districts extending student dismissals

Signaling an escalation of our state’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on Thursday calling for Californians to remain at home, with exceptions for essential needs. He also said school campuses might not reopen to students before their summer recesses.

“Don’t anticipate schools are going to open up in a week,” Gov. Newsom said. “Please don’t anticipate in a few weeks. I would plan, and assume, that it’s unlikely that many of these schools — few, if any — will open before the summer break.”

Similarly, the Orange County Health Care Agency tightened restrictions on public and private gatherings this week.

Based on these directives, as well as the recommended social distancing and containment strategies, I support the decision of Orange County school districts to extend student dismissals until the governor ends his order and public health officials modify current social distancing guidelines.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresIt is my hope that we will be able to welcome students back before the end of the semester. Keeping children home from school is a drastic measure, one that shows how seriously health officials and educators are taking this public health threat.

I have always believed our public schools should be lighthouses in the community, and that students learn best when they are working directly with their teachers and engaging with their peers. I also recognize that schools play a vital role supporting the busy lives of parents and families. At this time, however, it is impossible to foresee when this crisis will be over.

While our campuses have temporarily dismissed students, that doesn’t mean education stops. State leaders and county health officials have rightly identified educational services as an essential function of our society. Though we must continue to follow state and local recommendations for social distancing, including maintaining 6 feet of person-to-person separation, school employees are needed now more than ever to provide healthy meals and academic continuity for students.

The bottom line is we are “doing school” differently right now by pivoting to distance learning in real time. This requires innovation, creativity and collaboration on an unprecedented scale to ensure that the best practices of one district can flourish in another, if feasible.

We are fortunate that an overwhelming majority of Orange County residents have computers and smartphones in their homes, and about 90 percent have broadband internet connections. Districts are doing as much as they can to close the digital divide by expanding access to the homes of as many students as possible. But that still leaves a sizable percentage in need of printed resources and other offline content.

In addition to working with educational platforms that facilitate digital learning, the Orange County Department of Education has connected with PBS SoCal, which is broadcasting standards-based educational content for all grade spans on multiple channels. Moving forward, our goal is to support all of our districts with technology and resources as they develop and refine their own distance learning plans based on local needs.

As always, the safety of students and staff has to be our top priority. We recognize that social interaction is crucial to the well-being of our students and their social and emotional development, but we must do our part now to flatten the curve in the face of a public health crisis that is unprecedented in our lifetimes, and Gov. Newsom has said the next eight weeks will be critical. During this time, we will continue to work with public health officials on a daily basis and share new developments as they come.

Like every educator, I look forward to the day state and local health authorities announce relaxed social distancing recommendations that allow us to welcome students back to our schools and contemplate a return to normalcy. In the meantime, I am inspired by the work our teachers, school employees, administrators and families are doing every day to support teaching and learning at home.

We will be here to help in any way we can.