San Benito County schools closed for rest of year

Distance learning implemented for students, teachers

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By Juan Reyes

The San Benito County Office of Education took what seems to be the final blow as doors to all its school sites are officially closed through the end of the Spring semester.

The California Department of Education released a statement Tuesday regarding school closures for the 2019-20 school year due COVID-19 concerns.

“Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing, it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in the statement.

The San Benito High School Board of Trustees along with other public schools in San Benito County announced Wednesday that the school closures were implemented to limit the community spread of COVID-19.

A joint statement from San Benito County superintendents and principals said local schools “are taking a safety-first approach and are recommending extending the school facility closures through the end of the school year. The 2019-20 school year will not be over and we will continue to utilize distance learning to provide educational continuity. We ask for patience and understanding as we are all quickly transitioning into a new way of teaching and learning to meet the health and safety impacts of COVID-19.” 

Various school-sponsored events such as Prom and graduation are also in limbo. The Board of Trustees is scheduled to formalize the extension of the school closure during a special meeting on April 7.

On Wednesday, Hollister School District Superintendent Diego Ochoa released a statement recommending that the Board of Trustees take action this upcoming Friday to extend the closure of all schools through the end of the school year. 

“In preparation for this reality, the Hollister School District has planned to ensure that all households in the district will have a tablet, computer, or laptop in their home with internet access,” Ochoa said. 

Students in fourth to eighth grade will transition to online learning. Principals and teachers are working on creating lessons and assignments for their students.

Staff is also learning to use online meeting platforms such as Google Meet, Google Hangout and Zoom. 

Students in transitional kindergarten to third grade will continue to receive packets of work from the district through the pick up process already in place. 

Hollister School District’s Informational Technology team, led by Branden Johnson, sanitized and prepared each device for pick up. 

The team went school by school making sure that all the devices were working and updated. 

They plan to hand out devices until Friday at all sites excluding Gabilan Hills Elementary and Hollister Dual Language Academy.  

“We want parents to drive up to their child’s school, sign the device agreement and drive off with their device,” Ochoa said.  

Gabilan Hills Elementary and Hollister Dual Language Academy families can pick up their devices at Ladd Lane Elementary. 

On Tuesday, Thurmond noted that the extension of school closures doesn’t mean the school year is over. 

Instead, he mentioned the efforts should go into strengthening delivery of education through distance learning.

“With that said, we are doing everything we can to support our schools and their distance learning opportunities for our students,” Thurmond said.

SBHS District will continue its recently-implemented distance learning and food distribution programs through the end of the semester. 

The joint statement said, “We acknowledge that students only being able to be served through distance learning creates hardships for some students, families and educators. However, we are urging a safety-first approach out of an abundance of caution.”

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