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CUSD cancels events until April; classes remain open

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

As of press time Thursday, no student, teacher, administrator or individual connected to Claremont Unified School District had tested positive for coronavirus, said Superintendent Jim Elsasser, and students continued to attend classes district-wide.

Still, as a cautionary measure, all non-classroom district events through the beginning of April had been cancelled.

And as the Claremont Colleges and Cal Poly Pomona shut down their campuses this week and switched to online school, some are wondering about the safety of keeping CUSD students in class.

“The decision to close a school is made under the direction of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and there is no recommendation to close any CUSD school at this time,” Mr. Elsasser wrote in a March 11 letter sent to CUSD parents and caregivers.

“LA Department of Public Health is not recommending K-12 schools close at this time,” Mr. Elsasser said in a Thursday interview with the COURIER.

“And I’m assuming that, with the colleges, the kids all live together on the campus, they’re in the dining hall together for all their meals, whereas our kids come to school, and six-and-a-half hours later they go home. What I can tell you with certainty is we follow our direction from LA Department of Public Health, and they are not recommending that we close.”

Mr. Elsasser said parents and caregivers looking for updates should visit LA County Department of Public Health’s website at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/coronavirus for the latest information on the pandemic, and www.claremont-ca.schoolloop.com/illnesscoldsandflu for CUSD’s latest information on how the district is reacting to the situation. They can also email him directly at jelsasser@cusd.claremont.edu.

The LA County Health Department is the entity that makes the call as to whether a CUSD school or schools will close due to coronavirus. In the instance of a closure, there are two options: dismissal, where only students are sent home and staff remain on campus; or closure, where everyone goes home. The county would make either determination based on risk and exposure.

“If all of the sudden we were to get word that a student [staff member, or administrator] tested positive, we would have to notify the health department and they would give us our direction,” Mr. Elsasser said. “Anyone that tests positive would have to report it. If I tested positive I’d have to report it to the health department and they would give us direction as to what to do.”

It’s unclear whether this directive applies to family members, friends or acquaintances of people connected to CUSD, Mr. Elsasser said.

“I believe so,” he said. “If we had a student, and someone in their home tested positive and we knew about it, we would have to report it to the health department.”

If a school or schools shuts down, students and/or families will be contacted digitally, Mr. Elsasser said, so it’s important that all CUSD families’ current contact information—especially email addresses and text-able cell numbers—be on file at the district.

Parents and caregivers should log in to Parent Connection at https://h.myaequitas.com/Production/ParentPortal/ to check on their information.

“We’re finalizing that plan over the next day or so on how our staff would be able to send work to students, whether it’s simply emailing the family or whatnot,” Mr. Elsasser said. “So we may be looking at doing things digitally so that there’s a continuum of learning at home if there’s a school closure.”

Over the past two weeks the district has also been putting up posters around the various campuses and in bathrooms reminding students of safe hand washing techniques, and signs  asking parents and the public to “Please do not enter if you have a fever, cough, traveled to a high risk area within the last 14 days, or have been exposed to coronavirus.”

CUSD has had a district-wide pandemic plan in place for some time. It delineates how responsibilities are to be divided among the county, school district and individual schools, how communication will happen, and other key organizational elements, in such cases.

“We pulled it out a couple of weeks ago when all of this began coming to light and went through it and made sure it was updated,” Mr. Elsasser said. “We used that as our guideline to follow.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Mr. Elsasser hasn’t yet seen his email inbox flooded with coronavirus slugged emails—just four as of Thursday—or concerned phone calls, with less than 20 as of press time.

“That’s not bad,” he said. “We’ve got 6,800 students.”

And attendance—again, as of Thursday—had not yet decreased district-wide, he added.

Still, if parents get squeamish and decide to keep their kids home, they won’t be penalized, Mr. Elsasser said.

“If they’re not feeling well, of course we want them to keep them at home,” he said. “But if they’re just feeling too nervous? As far as families who keep their children home out of fear or concern, the absence will be excused and the students will be able to make up their work.”

“This situation is dynamic and evolving each day and we want reassure you that our priority is staff and student health and safety,” Mr. Elsasser wrote. “We will also continue to update you at each new development.”

Parents and caregivers are encouraged to check LA County Department of Public Health’s website at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/coronavirus for the latest information on the pandemic, and www.claremont-ca.schoolloop.com/illnesscoldsandflu for CUSD’s latest information on how the district is reacting to the situation. They can also email Mr. Elsasser at jelsasser@cusd.claremont.edu.

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