Superintendents of Fresno County Address Coronavirus Concerns


Photo by: Ben Hensley

(from left to right) Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino, Superintendent of Kings Canyon John Campbell, Superintendent of Sanger Unified Adela Jones (center) Superintendent of Fresno Unified Bob Nelson, Superintendent of Central Unified Andy Alvarado, Superintenent of Clovis Unified Eimear O’Farrel, Assistant Superintendent Hank Gutierrez. These seven individuals are following the lead of Gov. Gavin Newsom as they present the plans for their districts at the Fresno County Office of Education on Thursday, March 12.

Story By: Kris Hall, Opinion Editor

Superintendents for schools throughout the valley shared on Thursday, March 12, that they do not plan to close any schools in their district but are canceling school related events in the face of COVID-19.

In an opening statement from Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino, the news conference was called to share the most up to date information addressing the recent pandemic.

“Today is really to show our community that we’re all working collectively together to put our community at ease,” said Yovino.

The meeting at the Fresno County Office of Education had six out of 32 superintendents at the news conference to say that the districts are taking measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

“The courses that we are taking as a school district right now in measures of cancelling school activities, field trips and other things are a result of all of the information from our Governor,” said Yovino.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said California will have no gatherings with a body count over 250, and advised Californians to stay at least 6 feet apart.

Yovino also said that besides Gov. Newsom, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurman and Director of Public Health David Pomaville also contributed to shaping this procedure.

Beside Yovino were the superintendents of Fresno, Clovis, Kings Canyon, Sanger and Central, as well as Assistant Superintendent Hank Gutierrez, representing roughly 76% of the students in the county.

“This is about mitigation of risk,” said Bob Nelson, superintendent of Fresno Unified.

Nelson, along with every other superintendent in the room, reiterated what Gov. Newsom said about schools: canceled events will be nonessential educational activities.

Nelson classified nonessential events to be athletic events and field trips. He later said he would allow sports teams to practice, but the actual games with crowds that gather to watch would be cancelled.

“We encourage you to go to your own district’s local source of information,” said Nelson as he emphasized that even though Fresno County will work together as one, individual districts may have individual needs that may vary.

Adela Jones, superintendent of Sanger Unified said, “I do want to take this time to reassure our communities that schools and our classrooms are still a safe place to be for your children.”

Jones also said that her district is under daily sanitation and cleaning routines in order to maintain the safety of the children and staff at those schools.

Yovino said that the virus, “does not have legs, does not have wings. It only spreads through droplets.” Cover your mouth while you cough, he said.

The first question that evening was about lunchtime, what is the plan when all these kids are mingling in large numbers, touching their faces as they eat?

Superintendent of Clovis Unified, Eimear O’Farrel responded, “if it’s not rainy outside then the students can eat outside,” with the idea in mind that though the students may be in larger numbers, they can also spread out.

She offered as well that, “if the weather isn’t agreeable we can have our students eat in their classrooms.” Students, though in closer proximity to each other, will be fewer in number and therefore safer.

Nelson pointed out that there are “medically fragile students” within their district. COVID-19 is especially dangerous to those who are already sick as well as children and those over 65.

Yovino said in Fresno County there are about 1,800 students who are medically fragile and require extra care and protection.

Nelson said one way that they can protect them is by restricting public access to schools with medically fragile students in order to keep them “sequestered in a safe place.”

“We have an obligation to children in this community,” Yovino said, and that the concept of closing school is a, “tremendous burden on the community.”

One reporter in the room asked if extending spring break to two weeks was an option on the table, to which Yovino replied “no,” saying the other superintendents have not “gone there yet” in their conversations.

“Some school districts have two weeks of spring break and some have one week,” said Yovino, suggesting that such a task would need to factor in several complex elements and would take time to deliberate.

Time and effort may be wasted as they deliberate one solution. Since they are following guidance from the Governor who may throw their whole agenda to the wind as the situation changes from day to day, the group must spend their time wisely.

Yovino did not clarify whether or not a school would be closed if one of their students or faculty tested positive for COVID-19. He said he follows guidelines from Fresno County and from the California Department of Public Health, suggesting he will likely be given direction from those entities.

Yovino also stated that while one district may close, other districts may stay open, and that to keep up with whether or not someone’s school is open, students and parents must reach out to their personal district.

While many are worried about the spread of COVID-19 to the Valley, the fact is that there are very few cases in the region.

“Quite honestly, the health department has identified one case of COVID-19 in Fresno County,” said Nelson.

The one case that Nelson is referring to is likely the Grand Princess cruise attendee. This particular case was announced to be in recovery four days ago, and there has been no signs of spreading to those in contact with them.

Nelson also pointed out that the room the conference was in had about 30-40 individuals and that, “this may be the biggest room you’re in full of people in the near future.” This worked to emphasize how far of an extent the group of superintendents are willing to go to keep people safe from COVID-19.