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Nation's Big-City Public Schools Working Aggressively To Contain the Coronavirus

  • On January 31, Seattle Public Schools posted its first message about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the district website shortly after the first coronavirus case in the United States was confirmed in Washington. Since then, the school district has kept students and parents continuously informed by posting information on its website and social media channels, creating an FAQ, sending letters to staff and families, and featuring on its YouTube channel a daily video of Seattle Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau addressing community concerns as they occur.  

    “There may have been times we over communicated, but it was so important that we get our message out there and assure the community that we are doing everything possible to deal with this situation,” Juneau said in a video conference call the Council of the Great City Schools held last week with school leaders from its 76 member school districts. The call was the first in what will be weekly video conference calls the Council will hold for urban school leaders as they deal with the ripple effects of the coronavirus and work to protect the safety and well-being of their students and staff. 

    Proactive Measures 

    In an effort to contain the coronavirus, the Seattle school system will close for six weeks, and the 53,627-student school system is not alone. Several of the nation’s governors recently ordered statewide shutdowns of schools.  Here is a list of urban school district closures

    The nation’s urban public school systems have taken proactive measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, while working for weeks to make contingency plans in case they had to close schools.  

    The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is closing for three weeks. As a result, the district is providing two meals a day at 22 sites across the city for children under the age of 18, whether they attend district schools or not. The 38,000-student school district is also providing families and students free shuttle service to and from the 22 pickup sites. In addition to picking up grab-and-go meals at these sites, students can pick up instructional materials to help them continue their learning. The academic resource packets in all grades are being provided in hard copy since all students do not have internet access at home.  

    Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, has also closed their schools and partnered with two local PBS organizations to provide students with educational content.  

    Under the partnership, 700,000-students will receive educational resources at home, provided by PBS SoCal and KCET, both on-air and online, regardless of their broadband access. The stations will broadcast content specifically targeted to students Pre-K through 12th grade. District officials believe the partnership can be a model for other urban school districts and public media organizations throughout the nation, as PBS SoCal and KCET work together to deliver a satellite feed that other public media stations can use. 

    California’s Sacramento Unified School District recently announced KVIE, the region’s PBS station will offer California standards-aligned content for students in grades Pre-K through 12 on its KVIE 2 channel. The broadcast was made possible by the district joining the partnership initiated by the Los Angeles school system and PBS SoCal.  

    The nation’s fourth-largest school district, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, sent out an emergency preparedness mobile device survey to parents regarding their child’s technology needs and used results from that survey to create a plan to provide digital learning for all of its 355,000 students in the event of school closures. That plan became a reality when the district recently announced that all schools were closed due to the coronavirus.  

    Distribution centers were set up throughout the city to hand out free computer devices to students so they can continue to receive educational instruction online, and a support hotline was established for teachers, students and parents seeking assistance with distance learning. 

    The district also worked with Comcast to provide families without internet access free Wi-Fi for 60 days. In addition to providing online instruction, the Miami school system has also set up a hotline for students to receive mental health services. 

    The nation’s largest school system announced on Sunday that schools would be closed until April 20, and a Remote Learning Model for students in grades K-12 would be implemented. The New York City public school system is also creating Regional Enrichment Centers available for the children of first responders, healthcare workers and transit workers. 

    The School District of Philadelphia is partnering with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to open 50 recreation centers and gyms from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. The sites will provide safe spaces where students can drop-in for activities and receive meals. District officials also are working with several nonprofit partners to identify food pantries and meal sites that are open on weekends. 

    “Urban school districts are on the frontlines of efforts to contain the coronavirus in their large communities, while at the same time working to meet the educational, nutritional and emotional needs of their students,” said Council Executive Director Michael Casserly. “These measures include everything from distributing meals, providing online instruction, writing daily lessons, protecting the needs of students with disabilities and ensuring school buildings are cleaned and disinfected.”