By Lou Ponsi & Daniel Langhorne | LB Indy
The Laguna Beach Unified School District announced Friday that it’s closing schools for two weeks, starting March 16, to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
The Board of Education voted 4 to 1, board member Dee Perry dissented, during an emergency meeting to provide Supt. Jason Viloria with the authority to safeguard students and employees. The closure impacts about 2,800 students and about 340 employees, according to district documents.
Spring break is scheduled to run from April 6 to 10.
“At that time, it will give us an opportunity to reassess where things currently stand,” Viloria said. “It gives us an opportunity to figure out the guidance from the state level on a variety of topics we need to better understand before we move forward.”
In matters pertaining to the COVID-19, Viloria will have the sole authority to enter any contracts for any amount without advertising or going through a bidding process. That could include the cost of purchasing software for online instruction, supplies that students would need at home, or cleaning crews to disinfect school sites.
These powers could involve other expenditures and extending the closure if deemed necessary.
“I’m really most concerned about a big decision, like when does school reconvene?” Perry said.
As of Friday, health officials have not found any cases of COVID-19 in the district.
The decision came down within hours of Orange County Supt. Al Mijares recommending that all schools within the county be closed for at least two weeks to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Teachers will be preparing online lessons and packets to ensure student learning continues during the shutdown, said Sarah Hopper, president of the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association.
Administrators asked parents to make arrangements for their student or students for March 16 through April 3.
Angela Harris, a mother of El Morro Elementary and Thurston Middle School students, said she’s pleased with district leaders’ decision to close schools. She acknowledged it won’t disrupt her family that much because she’s a stay-at-home-mom and her husband Ben Harris is self-employed.
On Thursday morning, the couple decided not to send their three kids to school in the wake of state officials’ direction to ban events of 250 people or more.
“We’re going back to some basic steps that we used to do but haven’t done recently,” Harris said. “We told [our kids] to take your backpacks off, take your shoes off at the door and wash your hands.”
Harris watched fellow Laguna Beach parents’ anxiety grow over the last two days as they learned about closures at neighboring school districts and private schools. Those feelings of uncertainty appeared to decline Friday afternoon, she said.
“We are pulling out board games and going back to some old-fashioned family fun,” Harris said.