All schools in Santa Clara County will be closed for the next three weeks starting Monday, according to a new mandate issued Friday by the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
Because public schools in Mountain View and Los Altos have spring breaks scheduled April 6 through 10, local school closures are set to extend an additional week beyond that.
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department announcement came minutes after the rapid mobilization of the three local school boards representing the Mountain View Los Altos High School District, the Mountain View Whisman School District and the Los Altos School District to authorize their respective superintendents to close schools independently.
At a last-minute emergency 9 a.m. meeting Friday, the high school district board voted unanimously to permit the district's high schools to close for two, and possibly three weeks, at Superintendent Nellie Meyer's discretion. Within less than an hour, both the Mountain View Whisman and the Los Altos school districts had set 11 a.m. meetings to consider similar school closure policies.
The Mountain View Whisman School District board voted unanimously at an emergency meeting Friday to give Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph authority to close the district's schools.
The county's new mandate, however, takes precedence over those actions.
Bullis Charter School in Los Altos will also be closing on Monday in compliance with the new mandate.
The Community School of Music and Arts, or CSMA as it is widely known, announced it would also be closing from March 14 through April 3. The closure is in response to the county's guidance and not because of any known exposure to COVID-19, according to an update on the school's website. The school's music theory and composition classes will continue to be offered online, while preschool music classes will be postponed, and the rest of the school's offerings will be suspended.
“As the largest community school of music and arts in our area, we take very seriously our responsibilities to our students, faculty, staff and patrons. The health and safety of all are our primary concerns, and we are following the guidance of state and county health officials in taking this step,” said CSMA's Executive Director Vickie Scott Grove in the statement.
The plan to shut down schools countywide was made after "extensive consultation" with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, county Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan said at a press conference Friday.
"The decision to close schools to student attendance is a serious matter," she said. "Schools play an essential role in our society and returning to normal operations promotes continuity. The safety and well-being of our students and staff are our top priority."
Public Health Officer Sara Cody said that the county's new restrictions reflect an effort to balance "the public health need to slow the spread of infection with a significant impact we know these actions will have on the lives of our residents.
"We believe these actions are necessary to protect the well-being of our community during one of the most historic public health challenges of our time," she said.
Santa Clara County now has 79 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a number Cody said she expects will grow in the days and weeks to come.
The county Office of Education added that schools should do all they can to continue to offer free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch to eligible students; offer academic instruction to students at home, including to those without internet access, computers or school supplies; offer parent resources to help students; and provide families with resources about emergency child care, especially families in which parents are health care providers or are providing essential services to the community.
Here's what the districts have so far made public about their plans to offer these services.
Mountain View Los Altos High School District
The high school district plans to work with the Mountain View Whisman School District to support students who rely on the school for breakfast and lunch and will be providing families with additional information, according to a letter from the district's board of trustees and superintendent that went out by email to the district.
The district is also working with internet providers like Comcast to offer free Wi-Fi hotspots for students who may lack internet at home for 60 days, and will be increasing internet speeds for existing students who use Comcast's Internet Essentials plan for low-income families for free. Students who need a device or internet access should contact their schools immediately.
Teachers will continue to be in contact with students about their teaching plans and expectations.
Additional updates from the district will be available online here.
Mountain View Whisman School District
In an email the Mountain View Whisman School District sent out to families, Rudolph offered some additional details.
Salaried and hourly workers, including contractors, will continue to be paid. Only a few essential staff members will be required to report to work. Before and after-school care and the district's preschool services will be closed from Monday, March 16, to April 10.
The district's food truck will serve meals to children under 18 near the Castro and Mistral elementary school campuses. Students will be provided grade-level packets with student work during the closure. Families can also access online learning resources at Clever.com.
The district will provide Comcast credits offering temporary free internet of up to five months to families without internet access, with priority for students at Castro, Mistral and Monta Loma schools, and will distribute Chromebooks to students who need them. Updates will be provided at mvwsd.org/coronavirus.
Los Altos School District
The Los Altos School District said that it will be working with the other two districts to distribute food and share community resources in a memo posted to the district's website by Superintendent Jeff Baier.
Early next week, parents will receive instructions and a "road map" to start remote learning. Students who don't have Wi-Fi should let their school know immediately. Comcast offers an "Internet Essentials" plan to low-income families at no cost for 60 days and will increase existing speeds.
"Students should stay home and minimize social contact as much as possible to keep caregivers and adult family members safe," he said. In addition, families should make child care arrangements to avoid leaving kids with elderly people who are more vulnerable to serious illness.
Further restrictions on gatherings
Beyond school closures, the county's public health department also ordered a legal prohibition on gatherings of more than 100 people and banned gatherings of 35 to 100 people unless certain conditions are met, and defined a "gathering" as "any event or convening that brings together people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria, theater, restaurant, bar, or any other confined indoor or confined outdoor space."
It doesn't include airports or transit, nor does it include offices, classrooms, medical offices, hospitals, clinics, retail, pharmacies or grocery stores, where many people may be present but are usually spread out.
Access the full guidance here.
Elena Kadvany contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately reported that the Mountain View Whisman School District board voted 4-0 to authorize school closures with member Ellen Wheeler absent. The vote was unanimous – Wheeler called into the meeting and voted over the phone.