Parents cope with sudden school closures

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Families with children enrolled in Temecula Valley Unified schools wait to pick up lunch meals provided by the school district on weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon at Temecula Elementary School due to coronavirus-related school closures. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

The thought that the school year may end in the middle of March was likely something that occurred to no one back in August when local public schools opened for the fall semester.

But it’s a reality that came crashing down suddenly on everyone’s heads late last week when school districts began announcing they would close at least until next month.

On Tuesday, March 17, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he did not expect schools to reopen before the end of the academic year, a prediction that stunned many parents who were just beginning to deal with the new reality of children being home at all times.

Lisanne Gibson of Murrieta said from talking to international friends, she was already beginning to expect the sudden school closures when the Murrieta Valley Unified School District made its initial announcement on March 13.

She said she was at the library stocking up on books when she got the news.

Gibson said she has three daughters, aged 13, 11 and 7, and her oldest two had just begun planning what middle school classes to take next year. Now all of that is up in the air.

“Thankfully, I can stay home and take care of them. I haven’t been working,” Gibson said, explaining that she and her husband, who is in the Air Force, moved to Murrieta about a year ago.

She said she is trying to keep her kids on some kind of a schedule even though they are no longer going to class.

“I can’t have them staying up until midnight and keeping their dad awake because he had to be up at four in the morning,” Gibson said. “We start with breakfast, walk the dogs, they do a couple hours of something educational. Thankfully I had some workbooks and I ordered a few more. I let them choose the subject, whatever they want to learn about.”

She and the kids have been going outside for walks and similar things, but as of right now, Gibson said her husband is the only one who is leaving the house to run errands, since he still has to go to work anyway. And now that the family has stocked up on groceries, he may not need to go to the market for several weeks, Gibson said.

“I’m not going out and the kids aren’t going out, and whenever we talk to the neighbors, we do it from our respective driveways,” she said.

Kelly Wagner of Murrieta said she was actually comforted to hear that schools would be closing.

“My kids — their safety and their health comes first, so I was actually a little relieved to know they were going to be home,” Wagner said.

She said she is trying to keep her boys, aged 8 and 5, occupied with a daily schedule.

“For my boys, I’m trying to keep a regimented schedule to where they know what to expect, as if it was a regular day,and outside of them going to school they’re still kind of keeping their routine,” Wagner said. “They have a small amount of TV time, but they’re doing school work which at this point has been issue by the school.”

Wagner said her children had been getting daycare services while she was at work, but she decided to pull them out for the time being.

“They do actually attend a childcare, but for the fact that I have an autoimmune disorder I really didn’t want to expose them to other children,” she said.

Wagner said she took some time off from work when school closures were first announced, but now that the nonprofit she works for has closed temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, she can continue to watch her children during the day. Her husband, though, is a plumber and must continue to work, she said.

“Just keeping our children’s life as normal as possible is certainly our number one goal at this point,” Wagner said.

Jenn Curtis of Fallbrook said she had heard from relatives who work in education that school closures may be coming, but the news still came as a shock to her because it came while she was out grocery shopping for the first time since the urgency of the pandemic crisis had begun to set in.

“I was actually already freaked out,” she said, “because I went to Walmart and saw all of the shelves. So it just compounded all the issues going on.”

Curtis said she has two sons, 11 and 6.

Her oldest, she said, is her biggest concern because he has special needs.

“I’m having to spend a lot of time with my oldest, just like the aid would have to do in the classroom, with prompting him to complete his work,” Curtis said.

With school out, she said, “he’s not getting any of the social aspect, no speech services.” His teacher, though, is continuing to post assignments on Google classroom.

Curtis said she just began working from home on Friday, March 20 — she works for a call center — so it remains to be seen what challenges it may pose to do her job while keeping an eye on her children.

“Luckily my husband actually does deliveries so he can actually adjust his schedule,” Curtis said. “He’ll be home during the day while I’m working or he’ll work at night.”

She said while she can make it through months of social distancing, she’s worried about the social effects it may have on her son.

“My concern about going back to school on the 13th is actually to not have the services during that time, but if we’re gonna be out longer, I’m concerned not just about my son, but the rest of the population that has (Individualized Education Plans),” Curtis said. “They’re gonna get left behind.”

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.