Yesterday I was stunned to receive the following email from our school district’s superintendent, Luke Ontiveros:
“Dear SMBSD Family, As you may have heard, all schools in Santa Barbara County will close no later than Wednesday, March 18, in order to slow the potential spread of COVID-19. At this time, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County. However, all SB County school districts agreed that the need to close was prudent in light of the statewide situation.
Our schools WILL be in session on Monday, March 16, and Tuesday, March 17, for staff and students to provide SMBSD students and families with access to information, materials and resources to support learning during the closure. Schools will not be in session for students beginning on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
By holding school on March 16 and 17, we hope to provide working parents and families enough time to arrange for childcare. On those days, the schools will also be providing students with take-home technology, supplies and materials so that learning and academic engagement can continue during the closure. More information about this will be available soon.
Additionally, SMBSD is developing a plan to continue to provide meals to students. This information will be communicated to families through the district website, phone messages, texts and emails.
District employees WILL continue to work in a variety of capacities in order to continue to support students and families in our district. Further, more detailed information for staff members will be communicated through district emails over the next several days. Please check your district email frequently over the weekend and throughout the next several weeks for information and instructions.”
The pit that had developed in my gut during the last few days hardened. Was I living inside of a dystopian novel about the end of days? Perhaps I’d entered the Matrix where computer entities had suddenly decided to change the landscape? Were we at war with an alien species who was using the media to spread fear in order to divide and conquer us?
The answer, of course, was none of the above. Our district, like most California districts had decided that the risks of exposure to the corona virus outweighed the uncertainty of how the closing of school might effect those involved. This unprecedented decision came so quickly that I personally couldn’t process the information.
I was in shock.
Like most of you, I first heard about COVID-19 when the Chinese cases emerged. I was sympathetic, but this was happening on the other side of the world so tucked the information away in that not-relevant-to-me part of my brain. Then it moved to Europe and other countries. North America. A nursing home in Washington. Creeping closer to my central California home.
And I started to pay more attention. Friends sent me emails about the possible spread of the virus and how to prevent contamination. When I received the first one, I clicked my tongue thinking my friend was overreacting and playing into media fear. Then government officials released sobering reports with worst case scenarios.
Now I was engaged. I began reading various articles with more fervor, making a mental note to follow the advice. I made changes in my classroom. It had long been my policy to shake every student’s hand as they entered the classroom. (Then use hand sanitizer or wash my hands.) But now we switched to a fist bump instead, and I then used extra hand sanitizer.
More news. Large events cancelled. Coachella. The SLO Film Fest. All school sporting, fine arts, band, and non-essential events were cancelled. Our Student of the Month Assembly was postponed until the end of the year. Even our Friday Flag Salute where the entire school gathered outside on the green for patriotic songs, announcements, and the school cheer was cancelled.
In a matter of days, our lives changed radically.
That brings me up to yesterday’s announcement. According to the letter, I would have two more days of face-to-face instruction with my sweet fifth graders, then school would be suspended. However, teachers will continue to report to work monitoring on-line assignments. Okay, now I’m supposed to teach remotely via computer with no idea what it’s going to look like.
As changes occur, I’ll keep all of you posted. Like my hard-working colleagues, I’ll try my best to give students what I can during this challenging time. And pray that all of these policy changes do help keep the most vulnerable of our population safe.
Virtual hugs and blessings to you all.
About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry, Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward co-wrote Dean and JoJo: The Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net