Friday was a busy day for Dr. Andrew Pulver and perhaps, the biggest test of his administration of schools since he assumed the post of Superintendent less than a year ago.
In a wide-ranging interview shortly before a hastily called “emergency board meeting at 2:30 p.m., he explained the hectic and rapid sequence of events that prompted Friday’s decision to approve a two-week closure of district schools to protect students, teachers and staff from the Coronavirus crisis.
Pulver said he had been sending messages to parents since Wednesday, “hoping to urge them to get prepared,” the superintendent said.
Following a mid-morning group phone call between Orange County Superintendents Al Mijares and the OC Health Department, in which he participated, Pulver prepared a resolution and called the emergency board meeting to get their approval.
Mijares said later he supported the closure of all 615 K-12 public schools in Orange County, acknowleding also that “we do not know how this will ultimately impact our county. “
Although Superintendents “do have the power” to shut down schools in the case of an emergency, Pulver said having the board delegate the authority to him was the “smarter thing to do.”
First of all, he said it ensures a strong case if, for any reason, the district must appeal to the state for financial closure benefits, and also, Pulver said he has remained in constant communication with the board since the crisis began. “They have been constantly hearing from me,” he said.
The board approved the resolution to close the schools for two weeks and gave Pulver the authority to make a decision to close for two more weeks, if necessary,without coming back to the board.
“Four weeks is a long time to commit to without more information,” he said, referring to the process as a “student dismissal.”
Instruction will continue
“First of all, we are making a determination of which staff members are critical to remain” at school during the closure to make sure organizational elements like payroll, network administration and other vital services remain functional, he said.
Pulver said he is first among them and planned to report to work every day during the closure period.
Pulver said curricula will continue throughout the ‘closure period,’ however long that happens to be. In addition, Pulver said the system has teamed up with Verizon and Google to help ensure access to instruction for all students.
Teachers and staff were ordered back to school Monday through Wednesday, said Pulver, in order to “train” staff on how to use the “Google Classroom” online platform, said Pulver.
“Many teachers already use it,” he acknowledged, “but some don’t.” By Wednesday, he said, the teachers should have a plan for two weeks of lessons and be trained on how to interact online with their students.
As a contingency, said Pulver, he asked teachers to also be considering lessons that may be needed if the closure period has to be extended.
In order to receive the lessons, students must have a “capable device” at home. For those that do not have access to such a device, he said, “they can return to school and check out an approved device” for as long as it is needed.
To facilitate students that do not have online access, Pulver ordered 100 Verizon hotspots that were delivered on Monday.
Child care and meals
“I’m very concerned about our families that do not have childcare,” said Pulver, “and worried about what they will do.”
The superintendent said the Los Al Unified School system would continue offering child care for K-8th grade students, noting that it is a service paid for by parents.
Since classrooms will be empty, Pulver said the administrators will be able to maintain the required “social distancing”dsss of the children. While other systems are not doing it, “I made sure we’re doing it,” said Pulver.
“Our job is to keep children safe,” said Pulver, and “it’s better there than them not having a place where they are being supervised.”
While some parents will be able to make arrangements for child care, many others will not. “We should provide for those who can’t,” he said. The custodians will disinfect the premises daily and Pulver said they would ensure the children are kept in a socially responsible way.
“If we get different direction from public health agencies as we’re rolling this out, “we’ll just have to adapt.”
Pulver said simliar arrangements are being made for students receiving free and reduced breakfast and lunches. (See update, page 10)
Pulver said extraordinary precautions are being taken to ensure there will be no adverse financial impact, saying the state will likely adjust to allow for the distance learning, They will also authorize other emergency measures being taken during the closure period of keep kids safe and learning, he said.
For sure all the “certificate” employees will not be impacted, and he said the board and the system managers are working to ensure there is no fallout at all in terms of employees.
Pulver said the system is coordinating carefully with the state and the OC Superintendent’s Office as the system works through this unprecedented educational crisis.