Kings County schools, all on state's 'Watch List' ordered to stay closed and must implement distance learning

By Ed Martin, Editor
Kings County schools, including Lemoore High School, have been ordered closed to students as long as Kings County remains on a statewide county "watch list."
Kings County schools, including Lemoore High School, have been ordered closed to students as long as Kings County remains on a statewide county "watch list."

California Governor Gavin Newsom laid down the law today (July 17) when during a noon broadcast, said that the state’s schools, currently on a county COVID-19 “watch list” for more than 14 days, must open their school year with distance learning.

Kings County is one of 33 California counties on the state’s watch list being monitored for worsening coronavirus trends. California’s health department is working with local health departments to identify the source of the problem and provide assistance as needed.

Kings County has seen elevated disease transmissions and rising hospitalization rates, factors that put them on the watch list. As of Friday, the Kings County Department of Public Health reported 3,172 total cases reported since the outbreak began. There have been 41 deaths. Of the 41 deaths, 23 were reported in local nursing homes, while five were from Kings County’s prisons.

Overall, 2,020 of the total cases reported, have recovered.

If a county is on the watch list for three days or longer, the state will order them to roll back reopening, according to Newsom. California, a couple of months ago, once a state model for battling the coronavirus, is seeing increased cases and hospitalizations rise dramatically.

It appears that unless Kings County’s fails to improve its infection rate, schools can open on time, but will have to do so via distance learning. Local schools were expected to open during the second week in August.

The bottom line said Newsom, in his noontime televised address, is that “learning in the state of California is simply non-negotiable. We must provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic, whether they are physically opened, or not.

“Our students, our teachers, staff, and certainly parents, we all prefer in-classroom instruction, for all the obvious reasons, social and emotional, but only if it can be done safely.”

He continued by saying in addition to the students,  teachers, health care workers, school employees, and everyone to plays a role in the education of California’s kids deserve to be kept safe.

“Safety is foundational, and safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids as we move into the fall and how we work our way through this pandemic,” said the governor.

Newsom also said school districts in California would get an additional $5.3 billion, funds he says should be used to prioritize the issue of equity in the state’s schools.  “We’re putting up real resources,” he said.

He also highlighted five principles that will govern California’s schools during the pandemic:

  1. Schools must be safe and can open if not on the state’s monitoring list for 14 days.
  2. Mask requirements. All staff and students in third grade and above must wear masks.
  3. Physical distancing. It’s incumbent upon staff to have a six-foot distance between staff members and students. Handwashing, health checks, and quarantine protocols are essential.
  4. Regular testing and contact tracing. The state will provide the resources needed to conduct regular testing. Half the teachers and staff will rotate through monthly testing. Should teachers or students test positive for the virus, a classroom would have to close and quarantine for 14 days.
  5. Rigorous distance learning.

Newsom also said that if five percent of a school site tests positive, the state could mandate that the closure of the school site. However, in a district, if 25 percent of schools have positive cases, they must be closed within 14 days.

Kings County Superintendent Todd Barlow may have anticipated Newsom’s announcement and told The Leader he scheduled a Monday meeting with county health officials and local superintendents about what this announcement means for the county’s schools.

“We have been meeting for months now with the Kings County Department of public health every week, and we will continue to do so. We’re all sort of waiting, on pins and needles what this announcement brings,” said Barlow.

Just days ago, local school officials, while acknowledging that some students and staff may test positive for COVID-19 throughout the school year, remained confident that safety measures and identification, isolation, and tracking procedures would slow down the spread while students continued to have access to quality education and services.

Lemoore’s two major school districts, Lemoore High School District and the Lemoore Union Elementary School District, were planning to open the upcoming school year on schedule as the seven-campus elementary district begins face-to-face student instruction on August 11 while local high school students were scheduled to start their school year on August 12.

Lemoore High School Superintendent Debbie Muro anticipated Newsom’s announcement. “We’ve always had to be ready, even starting to work on online options and in-person options. We’re always talking about distance learning should we have to go to distance learning by the time school starts,” she said.  

“We’ve been trying to be ready for anything because it’s all dependent on the metrics the county has for COVID. That’s not a world we live in, so we know that could change, and we (might) not know it until the last minute. We had to be prepared for anything.”

According to the Kings County Department of Education website, virtually all the county’s schools were planning to open on schedule, all of them practicing similar safety protocols as students return to campuses.

The Lemoore Union Elementary School  District, on its website, spelled out the steps it took to develop a reopening plan and the safety measures needed to keep the coronavirus at bay.

“We have worked diligently with the Kings County Department of Public Health and Kings County Office of Education to ensure our planning meets expected mitigation efforts and have used parent and staff surveys to help guide our understanding of community needs,” stated the comprehensive website.

The elementary district’s website covers all the bases, from safety concerns to frequently asked questions. For example, students and staff are asked to self-check daily before attending schools, reminding them that if they have COVID-1 symptoms don’t come to school and call the school. Students’ temperatures will be taken at each school site before school beings for the day.

In a June 29 memo sent to Lemoore Union High School staff and teachers, Lemoore Superintendent Debbie Muro, in addition to spelling out the district’s budget woes, which included deep cuts to material budgets designed to avoid layoffs, reported to staff that schools would open on schedule.

Muro told her staff that the district was planning to start on time, and students will return to a regular daily schedule, except for Jamison High School, the district’s alternative site, which will run on a half-day schedule.

Lemoore High School would take steps to screen students and staff before coming on campus. Such measures include wearing facemasks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing in the classrooms. Seating will be four to six feet apart between students.

Some of the school’s facilities, including the cafeteria, teachers’ lounge, locker rooms, and a few others will be unavailable to most staff and students. She said the school would have a “distinct” traffic flow patterns so that students and staff do not meet face to face as much as possible.

Muro said that students who wish to opt-out of regular school attendance may either enroll in Lemoore’s online program or enroll in Independent Study courses. The increased workload related to those programs could necessitate Jamison High School teachers serving those students in the afternoons.

California’s COVID-19 numbers continue to worsen. On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom, in response to the growing coronavirus outbreak, ordered shopping malls, gyms, indoor church worship, and nail salons to shut down again, effective Monday, July 13.

All California counties, currently on a state watch list (including Kings County), are now required to close restaurants for indoor dining, wineries, theaters, zoos, museums, card rooms bars, and family entertainment centers.


Kings County schools, all on state's 'Watch List' ordered to stay closed and must implement distance learning

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