Riverside County schools still plan to reopen April 30, but acknowledge closures may be extended

Temecula Valley Unified nutrition services employees sort and put together school lunch meals for families with students enrolled in TVUSD at a drive-up lunch meal distribution operation. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

When local school districts first announced temporary closures as part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, they expected the closures to only last until sometime next month.

Southwest Riverside County school districts variously announced reopening dates spanning from the end of March to mid-April until the Riverside University Health System on March 17 ordered all schools in the county to remain shut until April 30. The same day, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was uncertain if schools would be able to reopen at all before the current school year ends in June, but issued no official order.

After that statement, some school districts in San Diego County, including the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District and Bonsall Unified School District, began to move away from their previously-announced restart dates. However, as of March 23, Riverside County officials had not amended their order for schools to stay closed until April 30, and Southwest County schools were still operating on that order while acknowledging their closures may ultimately be extended by county health officials. Many school districts also said they are relying on county officials’ guidance before cancelling graduations and other end-of-year events for high school seniors.

Here’s what each school district in Valley News’ coverage area was saying on March 23:

Hemet Unified School District

Alexandrea Sponheim, spokeswoman for the Hemet Unified School District, said the district will continue to follow the county’s order that schools stay closed until April 30.

Depending on the situation when that day approaches, she said, “we may have to adjust this date based on the statewide order from Governor Newsom.”

Sponheim also said Hemet Unified, which serves students in Hemet as well as a swath of Riverside County including Anza and Idyllwild, is unsure if it will be able to hold graduation ceremonies as previously scheduled.

“However, we have ensured our seniors that it is not a question of if we are going to celebrate their commencement from high school, but how and when,” Sponheim said.

Lake Elsinore Unified School District

LEUSD spokesman Mark Dennis said schools remain under county health officials’ orders that schools stay closed until April 30.

“The question of whether further extensions will occur is in the hands of public health authorities,” Dennis said.

According to a fact sheet put out by the district, which serves students in Lake Elsinore and Wildomar, LEUSD has developed an online portal for parents, guardians, and caretakers to use for instructional enrichment while school closures are in effect.

“Lessons and activities are organized by grade level and contain age and grade appropriate activities to stimulate critical thinking, to reinforce language arts, math, and other skills, with an emphasis on parent/child interaction,” the fact sheet said.

School principals are also this week finalizing a distribution plan for assistive technology such as iPads and computers for students.

Regarding graduations and other senior activities, the fact sheet said such events will be subject to public health orders that prohibit public gatherings if those orders continue to stay in effect.

“For the protection of public health, and to avoid the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19, LEUSD’s senior commencement ceremonies may be subject to cancellation under future orders,” the fact sheet said.

Menifee Union School District

Betti Cadmus, spokeswoman for Menifee Union School District, which serves elementary and middle school students in the Menifee area, said the district will continue to follow county health officials’ orders that school stay closed through April 30.

However, she said, “an extension of school closures may be forthcoming.”

Cadmus said Menifee Union is currently finalizing preparations for distance learning.

Murrieta Valley Unified School District

Monica Gutierrez, spokeswoman for Murrieta schools, said the school district plans to keep campuses closed until April 30 per county officials’ orders.

Murrieta Valley Unified: Thank you for reaching out! As of today, we will remain closed until April 30, 2020, per the Riverside University Health Systems, Public Health order. “We are on stand-by and preparing for any date adjustments that may come from either (Riverside County Public Health Officer Cameron Kaiser) or Governor Gavin Newsom,” Gutierrez said. “In the interim, we have offered optional learning activities for our students Pre-K-12. We (are) also in the process of training teachers and providing resources for phase 2 of distance learning, which will begin on April 6.”

Gutierrez also said senior activities through April 30 have been cancelled, and events including graduations and promotions that are scheduled for May and June are on hold until the district receives further guidance from health officials.

 “We are committed to honoring our seniors, we are just unsure of what that looks like at this moment,” Gutierrez said.

Perris Union High School District

Candace Reines, spokesperson for Perris Union High School District, which serves high school students in Perris and Menifee, said an announcement regarding distance learning opportunities will be sent out to students and parents the afternoon of March 24.

The district has previously sent out information to students and parents on enrichment activities, Reines said.

“As it relates to graduations and proms, no decisions have been made at this time,” Reines said.

San Jacinto Unified School District

San Jacinto schools spokeswoman Dawn Lawrence said SJUSD is currently operating under county health officials’ orders and plans to stay closed until April 30.

“We participate in regular communication from State and County authorities and will abide by their orders should the closure date extend,” Lawrence said.

Prom for San Jacinto High School students, which was originally scheduled for April 30, has already been postponed, she said. Graduations have not been postponed as of this time.

“Mountain View High School and San Jacinto High School graduations are scheduled for June 3 and 4, respectively,” Lawrence said, “and there are no plans at this time to cancel or reschedule.”

Temecula Valley Unified School District

TVUSD spokeswoman Laura Boss said the district is relying on county officials’ guidance authority for senior events.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that our students are not harmed as a result of a national crisis completely out of their control,” Boss said. “Academically, our plan currently is to begin our distance learning opportunities for TVUSD students the week of April 6, when we return from Spring break.”

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