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March 30, 2020

PVUSD schools to close for two weeks, teachers to stay home

Only 'essential' staff will work due to COVID-19 concerns

WATSONVILLE—The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees in an emergency meeting Saturday unanimously approved a plan to close all district schools for two weeks, and allow most employees to work from home. 

Essential staff will provide services such as food, custodial and technology, along with Human Resources and other basic district office personnel.

District officials, meanwhile, will consider hiring a professional cleaning company to disinfect buildings, classrooms and busses.

The emergency meeting came a day after the Santa Cruz County Office of Education closed every school in the county in response to the growing threat of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus.

A total of seven cases have been confirmed in Santa Cruz County, one of them in an employee at Rio Del Mar Elementary School.

PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez announced at the meeting that a second district employee is being tested for coronavirus.

The direction by the board to Rodriguez countermanded her earlier direction that teachers come to work from March 16-18 to prepare online lessons and other “distance learning” programs.

As part of this mandate, PVUSD technology employees will be tasked with disinfecting some 15,000 Chromebooks, which will be sent home with students for them to use. The district is also providing wireless hotspots to help them access the internet.

The increased closure time and other measures came in a motion by Trustee Georgia Acosta, who criticized the district’s response so far.

In a strongly-worded statement, Acosta said that other districts – even those without outbreaks – have shut down entirely for at least two weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

“I am really baffled that it took the district to call an emergency meeting to get us here to discuss what we’re going to do moving forward,” she said. 

In preparing lessons to be delivered via electronic means and homework packets, PVUSD teachers join colleagues nationwide in preparing for the increasing likelihood that the current school closures will last for more than two weeks. UC Santa Cruz has suspended all of its in-person classes until the end of the school year, and Cabrillo College and CSU Monterey Bay have similarly moved their instruction online through spring break.

“This is not going to go away in a few weeks, so we need to have continuity of learning,” Rodriguez said.

The meeting lasted for more than four hours and included nearly 140 emailed comments, the vast majority of which were critical of the district’s initial decision to require teachers to report to work.

Maya Murphy said that the order for teachers to come to work – which included the option for them to bring their own children – ignored “social distancing” recommendations released Monday by Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel.

“Offering us the option to bring our children with us to school is both unwise and unsafe,” Murphy said. “If it is deemed unsafe for our students to be here, then I will not bring my own child here either. We are being put in an impossible situation. The need to stay home is important to limit the spread of his pandemic.”

Rodriguez explained that the schools were closed as part of the social distancing guidelines, not because the schools were deemed unsafe. She added that teachers were told to come to their schools to help complete the large amount of work needed to transition to online learning.

“The challenge we have is that we must together create weeks worth of curriculum,” she said. 

Also during the time away from their classrooms, PVUSD will provide meals to the students who depend on their schools for their breakfast and lunch. That will happen at 15 sites throughout the district, which will offer both drive-up and walk-up options.

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