By Zack Lara, Staff Writer
// Students prepare for another month of YouTube tutorials, Zoom calls, and everything in-between as schools forfeit classroom learning in light of a new county instruction.
Public health officers and superintendents of six Bay Area counties, including Contra Costa, issued a mandate this Tuesday, April 7, extending school closures to the end of the 2019-2020 school year in response to the continued threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The number of confirmed cases in the United States recently surpassed 450 thousand, and local cases continue to bloom. As of April 9, Contra Costa Health Services recorded more than 44 confirmed cases in Lamorinda and 29 in Walnut Creek alone.
Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) Superintendent John Nickerson addressed an email to the AUHSD community concerning the mandate. Nickerson affirmed the closure of all schools in the district, as well as the continuation of online learning for the remainder of the school year.
“Although our physical campuses will not reopen, AUHSD staff will continue to support students in a virtual learning environment and deliver distance learning to provide academic learning, social connection, and some degree of normalcy for the students and families of our school communities,” Nickerson said in the email.
The extended suspension of campus activities not only impacts classroom learning but incites the cancelation of the traditional celebrations held at the end of the school year.
Many seniors were especially disappointed due to the cancelation of graduation. Senior class president Riley Nicosia expressed her determination to find alternatives for the end-of-year activities.
“Not getting to see all our hard work and plans through in the way they were supposed to is really disheartening, though the other three officers and I are working tirelessly to make sure they happen in some way, shape, or form,” Nicosia said.
Although traditional ceremonies cannot take place due to the extended closure, Nickerson indicated that school websites will continue to provide further news regarding such celebrations.
Despite all the recent changes, teachers assigning and collecting work remains a constant. Though, students must assume responsibility to learn material independently for the remainder of the school year.
Acalanes math teacher Michael Buchel assured that the new “credit” or “no credit” grading system proved beneficial to the online learning environment and loosened the issue of academic integrity, a sizable concern for digital classrooms.
“By having the fourth quarter and second semester be ‘credit’ or ‘no credit’, this makes the focus on learning,” Buchel said. “Instead of my students scouring the interwebs and crowd-sourcing answers to quizzes and tests, students just worry about learning the material to the best of their ability.”
Advanced Placement (AP) and college admission exams also suffered changes in response to school closures. Students will now complete modified AP exams at home. Moreover, the College Board suspended the SAT and ACT entirely for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
Many students anticipated the extension as California’s lockdown continued and conditions regarding the coronavirus failed to improve.
“I thought there was no way schools were reopening this year,” sophomore Zach Silverberg said. “Coronavirus is accelerating right now and isn’t going to stop.”
Others, like junior William Zhang, remained optimistic about the situation, hoping students would return to classrooms before the end of the school year.
“I thought that the virus had passed and everything was going to get better, but clearly it hasn’t,” Zhang said.
Students expressed mixed opinions concerning the extended closure. Although the shelter-in-place directive provides unprecedented opportunities to sleep and unwind, the isolated environment presents challenges in itself and restricts social connection.
The extended closure and shelter-in-place order abruptly cut seniors off from their peers, potentially restricting them from reconvening with each other before leaving for college.
“Not being able to see my classmates one last time in the way we thought we would be able to is super upsetting,” Nicosia said. “There are people in my classes that I loved seeing every day and I know that it will be super sad to not say proper goodbyes.”
Although Nickerson realizes students desire social interaction during these tough times, he reiterated the importance of continued social-distancing in his message to the community.
“We anticipate a surge in COVID-19 cases and intense pressure on our healthcare system in the coming weeks,” Nickerson said. “For the health of our community, our healthcare workers, and the effectiveness of our school closure, please do your part to isolate as a family unit.”