Updated 5:32 p.m.
Sacramento County’s Office of Education announced Wednesday that public schools in all of its 13 districts will remain closed at the start of the next school year, and students will continue learning at home and at a distance.
Superintendent of Schools David Gordon said that with the surge of COVID-19 cases, county education and health officials didn't feel they could safely bring back students when the school year starts Sept. 3.
"No one more than us wants students to be able to return to school, return to their friends, return to their sports and extracurricular activities," Gordon said. "But we have got to do it in a way that protects the community and helps us slow this curve of infection."
County Health Director Dr. Peter Beilenson said schools would start with distance learning for at least the first few months of the school year.
The decision to reopen schools will hinge on whether or not COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations start to decrease.
"I would say for a month or two to start with, then we'll know more about how things are going in terms of how people have been behaving in Sacramento County,” Beilenson said.
"However, if things continue in the way they're going now and people continue to gather and ... neglect doing some of those things that we have been hoping that people would be doing, then it may well be past the fall."
Beilenson said family gatherings have continued to push the spread of the virus, and that more young people are also being infected.
He said a lack of testing in the region also makes it difficult to bring students and teachers back for in-person classes.
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Wednesday's decision does not impact independently-run child care centers, but it does shutter district-run preschools.
Sacramento County schools are the latest districts to announce they would not have in-school learning this fall. Earlier this week, the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts announced they would not hold in-person classes, as did San Joaquin County Schools.
But in Orange County, a majority of school board members approved recommendations for reopening schools in the fall that do not include the mandatory use of masks for students or increased social distancing in classrooms.
On Monday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond acknowledged that many larger school districts would not be able to safely reopen given a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
"If school had opened tomorrow, most of our districts would open in distance learning," Thurmond said. "And that is a decision that I think is a good decision if conditions don’t change."
Last week, the California Teachers Association sent a letter to Thurmond, Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state leaders saying they would not support reopening schools unless the state enacted additional safety requirements.
"From a public health perspective, the best course of action would be to focus on improving our ability to provide robust, quality distance learning until the virus is marginalized and safety measures are addressed," the letter reads.
Sacramento County Superintendent Gordon says each district would implement its own distance learning plan. Sacramento districts varied in their response to school closures in the spring, with some able to set up distance learning earlier than others. In the Sacramento City Unified School District, officials lost touch with more than 500 students after in-person classes stopped.
"Our districts are very much attuned to that very real need, both from the standpoint of connectivity, but also the delivery of instruction and the checking on the progress of students," Gordon said. "And I know other districts will be redoubling their efforts to reach those children, [the ones] most at risk of learning loss. And that will be a top priority going forward for our districts."
Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said that the district is preparing a distance learning plan for the fall, and will work to provide professional development and support for teachers.
"While we will start the fall semester with distance learning, we commit to our community that Sacramento City Unified’s distance learning plan will include high-quality instruction, structures to measure student progress, and accountability to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of all students," Aguilar said in a statement. "Our students cannot afford any additional learning loss."
Last week SCUSD released a draft of its health and safety plan.
CapRadio's Nicole Nixon contributed to this report.
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