For Mariposa County Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Aranguena, the handling of the response to COVID-19 has been an interesting situation, and one that has kept him on his toes.
“This is a very fluid situation. It keeps changing what seems like hourly,” he said. “We have been in collaboration with our state and local officials, I would say consistently and multiple times a day.”
COVID-19 is the respiratory illness which has become a global pandemic and poses a safety risk to young and old alike. Unless you have been completely off the grid lately, no other explanation is needed.
In the wake of that, the district announced it would be closing schools through March 27, while assessing when to reopen.
“We simply needed time as a school district to figure out what was going on and make some longer term decisions. So we started with canceling classes for this week to take the time to get organized and have an organized response, because last week was just a roller coaster,” Aranguena said.
Aranguena said his team was following a school guidance memo which was released on March 7, and contained steps and guidance to help both school and public health officials inform their decision making.
Aranguena and staff were also consulting closely with Mariposa County Health Officer Dr. Eric Sergienko.
“We were prepared to shut down if Dr. Sergienko gave us that recommendation,” said Aranguena.
Ultimately, Sergienko never gave that recommendation, but was supportive of one option district officials discussed: closing for a short time to assess its options.
But what really gave district officials comfort in shutting down for the time being was an executive order passed last Friday by Governor Gavin Newsom.
That order essentially stated that local educational agencies could decide what was best for them, and schools would remain funded even if school was not in session. It also specified that school employees would continued to be paid.
“Under the executive order, all employees are compensated. That’s everybody,” said Aranguena.
After consideration, district officials determined the best path would be to shut down for the week and regroup.
“At this time, we are focused purely on health and safety of students and staff,” said Aranguena.
One concern about shutting down the schools was how some students would find meals. Many students count on the district’s meal program for their breakfasts and lunches. That fear was put to rest when it was announced district nutrition services would be providing opportunities each day for families to pick up free breakfast and lunch through mobile drive thru options or walk-up services for children.
Breakfast and lunch are being distributed at one time. This is occurring at the following sites from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day:
• Drive thru location at Mariposa County High School bus loading zone.
• Walk up locations at Woodland Elementary, El Portal Elementary, Lake Don Pedro Elementary, Greeley Hill Elementary and Sierra Foothill Charter School.
The meals will be available for free to anyone in the community 18 and under, regardless of what school they attend. No paperwork is required. Children must be present in order for the meals to be provided. Meals will be provided based on the number of children present.
The program is solely provided for pick up, and meals will not be consumed on-site. Families are encouraged to be proactive in reducing the risk of COVID-19 by not congregating at the school site and by utilizing social distancing once meals have been distributed.
Those in need of food services who cannot pick up meals should reach out by calling (209) 628-7915 or (209) 742-0250.
“These are unprecedented times,” Aranguena said. “One thing I want the community to know is as we move forward, we are making decisions that are not unilateral decisions. They are made with multiple stakeholder groups, our county and state partners. We are making decisions based on facts and a rational thought process. We are trying to do it in a calm manner as opposed to a reactionary manner.”
Students expected to do homework?
One question posed to Aranguena was whether students are expected be actively studying during the school closure.
It was made known to the Gazette that apparently, some teachers were continuing to email students with coursework materials despite school being shut down, and with so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 situation. Many of these students also do not have adequate internet access.
Aranguena explained that as of now, he did not expect students to be completing those tasks being sent to them by those teachers during the break.
“There has been no directive given to teaching staff to provide (educational materials),” Aranguena said. “That is not a directive.”