SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Starting Monday, thousands of students across Santa Cruz County will be out of school for at least one week after county education officials closed every school in response to the growing threat from coronavirus.

But teachers and school employees will be required to work, during which time they will plan for “distance learning” and the likelihood that the closures will last longer than one week. 

In a memorandum of understanding between the teachers union and Pajaro Valley Unified School District, teachers must go to work from Monday-Wednesday, and can work remotely for the rest of the week. If the school closure is extended, the teachers will continue to work remotely.

The district reached a similar agreement with its classified employees, which also allows them to be paid during the closures.

During that time, they will be creating lessons and planning and preparing for “distance learning” programs Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said. 

“We need to use this week well in order to be able to make sure that when we do have to start doing long-distance learning that there is a continuity of learning,” she said.

The PVUSD Board of Trustees will hold an emergency meeting on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. to discuss the issue. The public is asked to watch the meeting online here.

Rodriguez said that the students will not be quarantined during the week, but she urged them to follow “social distancing” guidelines released March 9 by County health officer Gail Newell.

“The main thing is that we don’t want the kids congregating in large groups,” Rodriguez said. “We want them to be home.”

For many grades, schools will provide Chromebooks for students to use, as well as mobile hotspots that will help them connect to the Internet.

The PVUSD during its closure will continue its free lunch program in drive-up and walk-up options listed here.

“We want to make sure that all students have access to that instruction,” 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.

Several teachers contacted this newspaper after the announcement, expressing frustration that they were being required to return to a place their students were being kept away from for their safety. 

That confusion was amplified when the district told teachers they could bring their own children to work with them.

“I feel it’s a knee-jerk reaction,” said Watsonville High School biology teacher Dan Johnston. “I’m struggling to find some meaning behind it.”

The county’s K-12 schools join a growing list of educational institutions that have been disrupted by the coronavirus response.

Cabrillo College announced Friday that it is moving all of its classes online, including lab, art studio and physical activity courses. That will mesh with Cabrillo’s spring break from March 23-28. After that, college officials will determine whether to extend online learning.

UC Santa Cruz also announced Friday that it is moving all of its in-person classes online through the spring semester, including holding remote final exams from June 8-12.

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