Kings County and Lemoore area schools preparing for distance learning as COVID-19 fears persist

By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore High School is preparing for distance learning if schools remain closed after March 14.
Lemoore High School is preparing for distance learning if schools remain closed after March 14.

When Lemoore’s local school districts decided to close their schools, they set generally set a return date of April 14 for students to return to classes. That prospective return date, as of this week, may have to be adjusted, according to a myriad of factors, say local school officials.

Other than an uncertainly, when schools may resume, students are still being fed, and instruction is taking place, albeit via distancing learning, online, and other methods.

“The districts had been in constant contact for over a week definitely leading up to the school closure decision together,” said Kings County Superintendent of Schools Todd Barlow, a 1988 Lemoore High School graduate.

“That collaboration continues,” he said. “As a, for instance,  we held a conference call last night remotely to update the superintendents on some decisions coming down from the state and federal level. The communication has been there, and we are all working very well together.”

Whether or not schools open sooner than later, that decision depends on several factors, continued Barlow. He and other county superintendents are in constant communication with California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond about the severity or decline of the current outbreak.

Barlow said he and other county officials recently heard from the state educational leadership. “The real direction everybody is learning is that a solid date is less important than a set of circumstances,” said Barlow. “And the set of circumstances will, of course, be a criterion (on the condition) of the outbreak and whether it’s under control. Tony Thurmond specifically said that the only criteria would be from the state’s health department and whether it deems it’s safe to open the schools.

“Just to give you an example, LA County set a date of May 5 to open their schools, but even that is a fluid date depending on circumstances. “In every county, it’s different.“

”We’re going to lean on state health department and even our own health department on guidelines for reopening.”

But learning for Kings County’s students didn’t stop when the virus began rearing its ugly head in California. In most districts, learning continues, and many students are still getting their daily lunches thanks to local cafeteria workers and administrative types manning the drive-through lunch counters.

Barlow said that teaching, despite the state’s circumstances, will continue. According to the governor,  education is an essential function. Everybody in the system will continue to get paid. The teachers and support staff are all out there working, “but in a way, that’s a little bit different than what they’re used to.”

Districts are still teaching or setting up the parameters for instruction. “What we are trying to do set up varying types,” said Barlow. “It’s really  several different methods of doing instruction, including doing independent study type of work.” For example, there are currently districts providing online sources. For families that don’t have online access, schools are offering traditional pencil and paper instruction.

Kings County education officials are planning a variety of services, including phone calls, and if necessary, given the needs of some students, possibly conducting in-person meetings where social distancing can be utilized. “One of the central themes is equity. When you provide something to one student in a grade level or in school, even the expectation is that every student has access that same information, that same curriculum, that same program,” said Barlow.

“And when you talk about online access for Kings County school districts and families in general, we all have different levels of accessibility to the internet.”

He went on to say that any district’s plan for instruction should be equitable for every student.

Will students graduate on time in Kings County in June?

“Our districts say it’s still too early to call that,” said Barlow. However, he and others heard from Gov. Newsom that he’s expecting some schools to be closed until the end of the year, which would affect graduation ceremonies.

“The other side of that is that are the graduation requirements.” But Barlow said the state is working with varying degrees of higher education sources to ensure that the current climate doesn’t interfere with students planning to attend college after high school.

Lemoore High School Superintendent Debbie Muro is leading a bare-bones staff of administrators during the coronavirus threat, and she is preparing for any eventuality, including the real-time possibility of distance learning.

The admin staff has also been busy helping to prepare daily lunches. Over 700 breakfast and lunches were served yesterday, said Muro. “We also got permission from the state to offer five meals in one day.” The idea she said is to have them drive by and pick up meals for the entire week.

Most teachers are currently working at home, preparing lessons that should begin soon. “Teachers are preparing for starting online instruction,” said Muro. “If kids don’t have access, they can come and get Chromebooks.”  

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