LOS ANGELES - Starting Monday, all schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District will close for two weeks in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, district officials announced Friday.
The closure also applies to San Diego Unified School District schools.
Together, the two largest districts in California serve more than 750,000 students combined. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said the districts worked together because they "believe this is an issue that needs collaboration and guidance at the state level."
Beutner and San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten issued the following joint statement:
"California has now entered a critical new phase in the fight to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic," they said. "There is evidence the virus is already present in the communities we serve, and our efforts now must be aimed at preventing its spread. We believe closing the state’s two largest school districts will make an important contribution to this effort. For that reason, we plan to close, effective Monday, March 16.
"Later today, we will be providing students, parents and staff with more information on our plans to continue providing learning opportunities for students during the closure. We have also directed staff at both districts to prepare to continue providing nutrition and other supports through family resource facilities."
The governing boards of both districts unanimously approved the decision.
For more information about these closures, LAUSD has setup these phone numbers:
For families, please call 213-443-1300
For employees, please call 213-241-2700
"This is probably the most difficult decision that we've had to make...it affects so many people and so many children," L.A. Unified school board member Jackie Goldberg said.
The family resource centers will open starting Wednesday, March 18, and will operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The centers will continue to provide meals and students will be able to engage with their peers and pursue their studies, it was announced during Friday's press conference. Volunteers with the Red Cross and district employees will oversee the resource centers and all resource center staff will have their body temperature taken daily, Beutner said.
There will be 40 centers spread throughout communities within the district. A full list of center locations and services is expected to be provided by Friday afternoon.
The district is also exploring ways to provide free transportation and methods to deliver meals to families who are unable to get to the resource centers.
All district employees will be paid during the closure, officials said.
"We've done everything we can to make sure our families are prepared with our schools closing," LAUSD board member Kelly Gomez said.
The LAUSD Governing Board held an emergency meeting Friday morning after the L.A. Teachers Union called for a more aggressive response to address coronavirus concerns.
On Thursday night, the L.A. Teacher’s Union, ULTA, demanded that the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the nation, cease immediately.
More school districts across Southern California have opted to temporarily shut its doors, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, Ventura Unified School District, and the La Cañada Unified School District.
In a statement to the La Cañada Unified School District community, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said:
"Students will not report to school from Friday, March 13 through Monday, March 23, 2020. Teachers and staff will report on Friday to further prepare materials which will be sent home to students via distance learning.
The decision to close schools was made at the local level. There are currently no cases of COVID-19 reported within LCUSD. Please know that the determination was not made lightly and we recognize that it will introduce some hardships for many of our families. Given the rapidly changing nature of coronavirus outbreak, we will remain in constant communication with local and state health officials, provide regular updates to our families, teachers, and staff, and work to be as agile and responsive in our decision-making as possible."
"Other countries have shown that a proactive -- not reactive --approach slows the spread of the virus, makes sure health care providers are not crushed with overwhelming demand and dramatically reduces fatalities," Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles said.
Earlier this week, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said canceling in-person classes would prevent some students from participating in virtual learning.
"Eighty percent of the families we serve live in poverty and more than a quarter of them do not have access to internet at home," said Beutner.
"I don't know what people will do when they don't have childcare. That's been my main concern," a parent told FOX 11.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday during his appearance on Good Day New York that schools must stay open.
"The schools are where kids are safe. A lot of parents, if the school's not there, the parent can't go to work, especially in a single-parent household," de Blasio said.
ULTA also revealed what is called “10 Common Good Community Demands,” which includes 5 additional paid sick days for all Los Angeles County workers, a weekly disaster stipend and the creation of a food supply network.
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"There is an opportunity here to build a social safety net through our ‘Common Good Community Support’ demands. Let's take the opportunity to build those now."
The LAUSD and SDUSD closures will remain in effect for at least two weeks.
City News Service contributed to this report.