LOS ANGELES — California's two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, will temporarily close starting March 16 because of the coronavirus threat, officials announced Friday.
The decision was announced by superintendents of both districts, which together serve more than 750,000 students.
The Los Angeles district announced a two-week closure, although Superintendent Austin Beutner indicated at a news conference it could extend beyond that.
“We do not know at this time the duration of the closure. We are saying it is for two weeks. We will see what happens. The facts and the circumstances will tell us,” he said in response to a question.
San Diego said it would keep schools closed until April 6.
Soon after the announcement from Los Angeles and San Diego, school districts in Long Beach (72,000 students) and Oakland (37,000) said they would also close, Long Beach until April 20 and Oakland until April 5.
"California has now entered a critical new phase in the fight to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic," Beutner and San Diego Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a joint statement. They did not disclose an end date for the closure
"There is evidence the virus is already present in the communities we serve, and our efforts now must be aimed at preventing its spread," they said.
The superintendents said they would provide information to students, parents and staff later in the day. They noted that both districts would continue to provide meals and other support through family resource facilities.
Los Angeles Unified serves more than 1 million meals each day. As many as 17,000 students are homeless.
“Los Angeles Unified serves a high needs population and our schools provide a social safety net for children,” Beutner told a press conference. “The closing of any school has real consequences beyond the loss of instructional time.”
He said the district's 75,000 employees would continue to be paid.
On Thursday, Beutner had outlined plans for a potential closure that included teaching through Public Broadcasting Service channels.
At the time, Beutner said schools would stay open because none of the 32 confirmed cases of the virus in Los Angeles County were connected to the district, which serves kindergarten through 12th grade students in Los Angeles, all or parts of 31 smaller cities and several unincorporated areas.
San Diego parent Daniel Rodriguez said the closure will mean his 13-year-old daughter will be out for six weeks now since it will run into her spring break.
“I think it’s overreactive,” he said, adding that he was waiting for more details. “Are they going to extend the school year past July or just call it no education for these two to three weeks?”
A wave of closures and postponements spanning everything from government offices to cultural events and sports followed Gov. Gavin Newsom's call this week for cancellation of all non-essential gatherings of 250 people or more.
A half-dozen school districts in Ventura County announced temporary closures following similar decisions by several Northern California districts, including the San Francisco public school system.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez announced that Roman Catholics in the three-county region were dispensed from the obligation of attending Sunday Mass for the remaining weekends in March.
The archdiocese said attendance at Mass would be limited to 250 people and recommendations for “social distances" would be followed. A livestream of the LA cathedral service was also being made available.
Members of Saddleback Church, a megachurch with locations across Southern California, should gather in small groups to watch weekend services online, Pastor Rick Warren said in an email.
Disneyland and its California Adventure park planned to close from Saturday through the end of the month and Knott's Berry Farm followed suit. Universal Studios Hollywood said it would close Saturday and reopen March 28.
The goal of all authorities is to slow the virus' spread to avoid overwhelming hospitals with those sickened by an illness that no one in the world has immunity to. Worldwide, 137,000 people have been infected and more than 5,000 have died, but half of those who had the virus have already recovered.
Most patients have mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, but severe symptoms including pneumonia can occur, especially in the elderly and people with existing health problems.
Associated Press Writers John Rogers in Los Angeles; Amy Taxin in Anaheim, California; and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this story.
Stefanie Dazio And John Antczak, The Associated Press