Castilleja School will be closing its Palo Alto campus and moving all classes online out of an "abundance of caution" — a step that more local private K-12 schools are taking to stem the potential spread of the new coronavirus, as public schools remain open.
"Given the spread of coronavirus in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and the increasing number of local schools pursuing online learning in the face of the virus, Castilleja has decided that closing campus and resuming classes remotely is the best course of action for its students and employees," the private all-girls middle and high school announced on Wednesday.
There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus to date at Castilleja. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department is not currently recommending closing schools, though it will consider whether a campus should close if a staff member or student is confirmed to have COVID-19.
"Children have not been shown to be a high-risk group for serious illness from this virus, and schools can still limit the number of people in close proximity to one another," reads a county public health FAQ. "As much as possible, children should be allowed to carry on with their education and normal activities."
Students, if sent home, could also expose more vulnerable, older family members, the county has said.
Castilleja's campus will close on Monday, March 16, through spring break "at a minimum," school leaders said. Castilleja had already canceled classes this Monday to allow teachers to prepare for the possibly of moving their instruction online.
A growing number of local private schools are shuttering temporarily in response to public health recommendations to increase social distancing, including the Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, the International School of the Peninsula in Palo Alto, Bowman School in Palo Alto, the Primary School in East Palo Alto, Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park, Woodside Priory in Portola Valley, Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, Canterbury Christian School in Los Altos and Serra High School in San Mateo. Menlo School, which closed from March 4 to 6 after a staff member interacted with a relative who tested positive for the coronavirus, announced Thursday morning that it was closing again, at least through the end of spring break on April 13.
At Castilleja, students will access courses through online learning platform Schoology and advisory meetings through Google Hangouts or Zoom. Online counseling support will also be available via Zoom. The school will provide internet hot spot devices for any student or employee who does not have access to high speed internet at home and is directly reaching out to families.
Castilleja is urging students to practice social distancing while school is canceled, which means not meeting in large groups to study or socialize.
In a Wednesday update, the Palo Alto school district described closing schools is a "last resort as it causes significant community disruption."
"Not every family or parent has the time off or the financial security to stay home from work with their child. Many families also rely on schools and staff for basic needs for their children, including regular meals, health care and child care. If schools shut down, vulnerable families will experience the greatest burden and suffer negative impacts," the district said.
Palo Alto Unified has canceled large events, including school dances and group assemblies, and is not allowing parents or visitors on campuses during school hours, among other restrictions.
"We will be ready for potential closures," Superintendent Don Austin tweeted on Wednesday evening. "Will also follow guidance of health professionals. Dismissal does not equal quarantine."
The Menlo Park City School District, however, is now encouraging families who can to keep their children home and will provide them with remote learning until spring break starts at the end of the month. The district's schools will remain open, providing busing, hot lunch and after-school programs to students.
"MPCSD's goal is to find a middle ground between shutting everything down and continuing our normal program," Superintendent Erik Burmeister wrote in a message to families and staff on Wednesday.
Staff members and a student in the Menlo Park City School District were asked to stay home after learning they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The Ravenswood City School District remains open, though the East Palo Alto district canceled all field trips for March and has suspended nonessential volunteer programs from coming into classrooms. On Thursday evening, the school board, however, directed staff to close school on Monday and Tuesday to allow teachers to prepare for distance learning.
Local colleges and universities are also shifting to online instruction. At Stanford University, which announced on Wednesday two new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, classes will not meet in person until further notice. The university also asked undergraduate students this week to leave campus at the end of winter quarter if possible. Stanford is telling students to plan to return to campus when in-person classes resume, but it's unclear when that will be.
The Foothill-De Anza Community College District announced on Wednesday that in-person classes at the two community colleges would move online starting Monday, March 16, possibly for the rest of the academic year, but hoping to resume regular instruction as soon as possible in the spring. For some activity, studio, and laboratory classes, however, teachers and students can choose to continue to meet in person to finish this quarter. The campuses themselves will remain open, though Foothill College in Los Altos Hills has canceled all on-campus events through the end of April.
Menlo College is also moving instruction online, noting that at least 12 other colleges and universities have done the same.
As of Friday morning, March 13, there are 66 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County; at least 16 of those are community-transmitted cases. Of the 66, one case resulted in a death. The county now has about a quarter of the state's total cases.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.