By Katrina Ortman, Staff Writer
// As the number of local COVID-19 cases continues to increase, so does community pressure on schools to keep students safe, healthy, and learning. After serious deliberation, the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) took the next big step in its response to this global pandemic.
AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson announced a joint decision with the six County Superintendents to extend school closures and distance learning through May 1 in six Bay Area counties, including Contra Costa County (CCC). The change was made in collaboration with the Bay Area County Health Officers.
The CCC Office of Education makes it clear that the purpose of this extension is to stop the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.
“The safety and wellness of students, school personnel, and the community are the highest priorities of all schools and districts in these six counties,” the CCC Office of Education said in a joint press release statement.
On March 25, the total number of COVID-19 cases in CCC broke 100 at 108 cases, according to the CCC Health Service’s regularly updated website. As the COVID-19 “curve” begins to steepen, health officials deem it unsafe for students to return to school on April 5, the originally scheduled return date.
Although students are still wrapping their heads around the concept of four additional weeks of distance learning, Nickerson’s announcement did not come as a surprise. Public Health Officers ordered a “Shelter in Place” on March 16, extending past April 5, and California Governor Gavin Newsom reported that he did not expect schools to reopen this year at all, so it seemed inevitable to students that AUHSD would extend the closure.
“[I wasn’t surprised], mainly because it took China two months for their cases to go down, but a part of me also didn’t expect to not go to school for basically the entire last semester. It’s hard to imagine that,” sophomore Rachel Zhang said.
Many students predict the extra month of distance learning to increase workload in classes and confusion over the material. Especially in classes that regularly use talking and communication, distance learning proves to be a challenge.
“I think AP Euro will be affected the most, mainly because it heavily depends on the teacher’s lectures,” Zhang said. “It’s definitely affecting my understanding of the material and the feel of the class. It’s also been harder to study for the AP test.”
Fortunately, the school closure extension itself should not affect distance learning plans extensively. AUHSD notified staff in advance of the possibility and set aside several school days so that teachers can dedicate time to creating online curriculums.
“[Teachers] were notified that the closure was likely to be extended. They will further prepare for the extended closure during the professional development days on March 27 and April 6,” Nickerson said. “Our teachers are working really hard, and I am hearing of many extraordinary learning opportunities for students.”
Out of the whole student body, this decision will affect graduating seniors the most. The second semester of senior year is a time chock-full of traditions, including senior pranks, prom, and graduation. After the second school closure announcement, the time frame to fit in these celebrations narrows even more.
“It’s just a bummer because our last few months in high school and with our friends has just been taken from this virus,” senior Anubhav Dawadi said.
Furthermore, students express that motivation to complete online schoolwork, while dwindling before, will decrease after this extension. Without a concrete schedule, students are finding it challenging to create an order to balance Zoom meetings, Schoolloop due dates, and family time.
“For seniors, motivation has been down for this whole semester, and the Credit/No Credit system has brought it lower. Now, this is just another thing added to that list,” Dawadi said.
Going forward, AUHSD will continue collaborating with the CCC Office of Education and health officials to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Nickerson stated that the district will release updates on the new school closure extension throughout this week and before Spring Break.
“Public health experts will continue to monitor regional data and will make recommendations. We certainly hope that students will return to our schools in May, but will also prepare for another extension of the closure,” Nickerson said.
Despite continuously emerging hardships during this worldwide pandemic, students acknowledge the value of the extension and its role in encouraging social distancing.
“I think it’s important that we try to slow the amount of infections. No matter how the virus may affect or not affect teens, it’s our responsibility to not spread it to more vulnerable people,” Zhang said.