As large school districts across the state all closed, some wondered what took the Kern County Superintendent of Schools so long to follow suit.
“Twenty-four out of 25 of the largest districts in the state of California have already shut down. The one remaining in that group is Kern High School District,” said Governor Gavin Newsom in a press conference Sunday.
Come Monday, KCSOS decided to close 47 school districts for four weeks, from March 18th until April 14th.
“We delayed taking this action as long as possible because we serve a different population here in Kern County,” said Superintendent Mary Barlow. “Seventy-three percent of our children are eligible for free meals. Thirty percent live in poverty. Very few of these children have access to the devices that would be needed for distance learning. Very few of them have internet connectivity to allow them to conduct distance learning.”
One hundred ninety thousand students will be affected.
For kids who need meals, the same program that offers them food over the summer is now extended to districts through June 30th.
“We’d really like to see more of a grab-and-go, so people come up and we can just be able to put that right there into the vehicle, and they don’t even have to get out,” said Chris Hall with KCSOS.
KCSOS also has been working with state and local suppliers to get computers for students who don’t have them.
“We expect that there is approximately 40 percent of children in Kern County that either do not have a device or do not have connectivity,” said Superintendent Barlow.
“Research has shown us that when we have our summer breaks during school, on average our students lose about a month’s worth of learning. We’re wanting to combat that learning loss as much as possible,” explained KCSOS’ Lisa Gilbert.
KCSOS plans to use paper packets for math and language arts for the first two weeks.
After that, when internet and devices have been settled, schools will use Canvas, a digital learning site. KCSOS partnered with Canvas to get access for free.
Gilbert explained, “It can be as simple as students being able to log on and get free resources and interactive programs that are online, or it can be as customized as a teacher saying, students come and meet with me from 10 to 12, and we’re going to go over this lesson.”
As for teachers, each district is making its own plans with unions.
“Currently our employees are expected to return to work, and we do still have a lot of essential job duties to be performed,” said KCSOS’ Toni Smith.
Those over 65 or with chronic health conditions are allowed to work from home or be on paid leave.
As for what happens on April 14th, Superintendent Barlow said, “We are taking this on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis, but there is a potential that the school year may need to be extended.”
If you have any questions about your specific school district, you can find updates at alertline.kern.org.