By Collin Breaux

With growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees approved school closures during a special meeting on Friday, March 13.

Spring Break will be moved to March 16-20, and schools will be closed for students from March 23 through April 3. The last day of the 2019-20 school year will remain June 4.

Executive staff will be working during Spring Break and teachers, staff and administrators would be working on campuses during the May 23-April 3 timeframe.

The school closures follow other impacts to the South Orange County area, including the postponement of the Swallows Day Parade in San Juan Capistrano and cancellation of the second weekend of the Festival of Whales in Dana Point.

“Right now, we are making the choice of what’s best for student health and global health,” Trustee Amy Hanacek said. “The hardship that, when we do have children at home and are not able to send them to school, is truly profound … Everybody is taking huge sacrifices. Many people have lost their jobs already. We are committed to making sure that children continue to be educated the best they possibly can.”

Superintendent Kirsten Vital said they will further discuss the evolving coronavirus issue and what will happen with CUSD at their regular meeting on Wednesday, March 18. Another special meeting is expected to occur on Wednesday, March 25.

Board President Jim Reardon also said the trustees will meet weekly for a while to figure out what’s going on.

“A lot of things happen in the world that are sort of top-down and you feel like you’re not in control,” Reardon said. “The decisions that are made in the school district this week have really been bottom-up decisions made in a very rapidly moving situation where there wasn’t a lot of great information.”

Reardon further said there is flexibility to deal with what comes and begin making longer-term plans.

Community members, parents and students made several comments during the special meeting, including discussions about rescheduling upcoming SAT testing, expressing disappointment over schools being closed, suggesting online classes and ensuring children who rely on schools to get meals are taken care of.

Vital said a food plan will be put out and children will be fed. Vital also said she feels terrible about the SAT testing situation but it needed to be rescheduled in light of the direction CUSD was given. CUSD officials are figuring out the postponement and when SAT testing can be rescheduled.

As for graduation, Vital said this “is a really evolving situation” and they will discuss the matter at future meetings and have plans to think about graduation and other matters.

“Know you have very active PTAs in this district. We are willing to work with you as we go through this,” Michele Ploessel-Campbell, legislative chair for Capistrano Unified Council of PTSA, said. “When you close schools, you close childcare. We have families that cannot afford to not have their children watched and who are finding out today they don’t know what they’re doing for the next three weeks to a month. That’s a challenge we need to think about. Work with your PTAs. Outreach to us. We are willing to help.”

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