‘I have to do bad parenting today’: Hilary school closures send parents scrambling

‘I have to do bad parenting today’: Hilary school closures send parents scrambling

They parked their children in front of the TV or tried to get them to do online class assignments. Some parents scrambled to find day care, others took the day off work. And after California’s two largest school districts closed Monday in the wake of Tropical Storm Hilary, many decided to simply take advantage of what turned out to be a beautiful Southern California day.

Los Angeles Unified School District closed to launch an expansive review at some 1,000 campuses for potential storm damage, while San Diego Unified School District postponed what would have been the first day of school, leaving hundreds of thousands of children and parents with a last-minute day off for the first storm day in recent memory.

“I have to do bad parenting today and let them sit in front of the TV. I don’t know what else to do,” said Julia Cox, the mother of a 4- and 6-year-old and an interior designer in San Diego. Unable to take the day off, Cox was left to juggle work and mediate between her two wiggly children as they battled over whether to watch “Octonauts” or “Barbie.”

Five-year-old Bernadette Gershon just started kindergarten last week at a Los Angeles Unified charter school. But Monday she had a day filled with “The Little Mermaid,” “Avatar,” and possibly a trip to the movies to see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.”

Her mom, Candice Vega, works from home, an accountant for a small studio, but with quarterly reports due soon, work is just too busy to take the day off.

“What I usually do on days like this is leave out lots of snacks and the TV on, and I let her entertain herself for as long as possible.”

Parents of the youngest children were left to make alternative arrangements. Larissa Mozes, a therapist in Winetka, canceled all of her patient appointments on Monday to care for her two children. Her 3-year-old son’s Los Angeles Unified preschool closed, as did the her 5-month-old baby’s private day care center, which is also backup care for her older child.

“I was upset that the school district closed, but more so the day care, because I’m supposed to be able to rely on them for days like this,” she said.

For other parents — especially those with older children — Monday felt like a rerun of pandemic learning.

At home in East Hollywood, Paula Meneses’ three kids slept in. Their father took the day off to stay with them as she ran errands in the morning.

She planned to have them spend the day working on assignments their teachers posted online. Though she wasn’t sure what her high school and middle school daughters would be working on, she had by late morning already looked through her fourth-grade son’s school work. He would primarily be working on reading and comprehension Monday, she said.

“We’re managing this all right,” Meneses said.

Read more: Hilary obliterated daily rainfall records. How much fell in your area?

At least 16 of 80 school districts in L.A. County announced a Monday shutdown, a decision under the jurisdiction of local district officials. The Pasadena Unified, Lancaster and Keppel Union districts were among those that posted word online of one-day closures. Keppel, like Lancaster, is in the Antelope Valley. In Riverside County, the Palm Springs Unified School District will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday because of highway flooding.

Supt. Alberto Carvalho said that district schools — which are scattered over 700 square miles — escaped significant storm damage, but internet and phone service was down for at least 24 campuses and access to some schools was difficult in the morning, especially in the Sun Valley area.

With regular meals for students unavailable, the school district set up 13 locations for parents to pick up food. The district is a major source of weekday nutrition, with 80% of students qualifying for a free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, and, in some areas, dinner as well.

Families picked up more than 1,000 meals at Fremont High in South Los Angeles and generally supported the decision to cancel school, even as they sought out shade from the balmy sunshine and as puddles quickly began to dry out.

“I was thinking that they weren’t going to school already,” said Ieshania Hamilton, who has two children at 95th Street Elementary. “There’s no way to kind of really predict the weather and how bad it’s going to be.”

Her children do not yet have school computers, but she has a home computer and hoped to get online through her cellphone hot spot.

Hamilton had intended to spend much of the school day looking for a new job. Instead, she spent much of the morning just “dancing” with daughters Melody Bailey, a kindergartener, and Gwendolyn, a third grader.

Cristina Felix had planned to keep her three children at home regardless. Her daughter Bella, a 6th grader, was anxious to be back in classes, especially because she was ready for her first test.

“I’m happy because it’s only one day, and I get to go back to school the next day,” said Bella, who attends a nearby charter school. “I get to put on my uniform, wear my Converse shoes. I get to do all my stuff. I get to go eat lunch; I get to go to history. I get to go to every class.”

Daisy Gutierrez arrived at Fremont High with a van full of her five children and left with a trunkload of food: Cheerios for breakfast, frozen burritos for lunch and chips, salsa and fruit for dinner — along with lots of milk in half-pint cartons.

Read more: Hilary leaves massive flooding, mudslides, upheaval across Southern California

Read more: Hilary obliterated daily rainfall records. How much fell in your area?

During a Monday morning news conference at the city’s emergency operations center with regional officials, Carvalho defended the decision to close campuses for the day in light of the unknown potential impact and the overnight peak of the storm.

“I know some will criticize the decision, but decisions are informed by scientific data and conditions as they are presented to us based on the best information available,” Carvalho said.

The closure allowed for safety inspections that could not take place overnight: “Without the ability of conducting those necessary inspections, it would have been reckless for us to make a different decision,” Carvalho said.

Carvalho previously served as superintendent of the Miami-Dade County schools and said that closing campuses for a weather event such as this would be automatic there. He added that there were other issues significant enough to have complicated any attempt to open L.A. schools Monday morning.

These challenges included a mudslide at Marlton School in the Baldwin Hills, a campus that serves deaf and hard-of-hearing children. However, he added that the mudslide has been cleared away by 9 a.m. Other problems in Sun Valley affected roads and access to campuses and bus yards, Carvalho said. Bus drivers normally report to work as early as 4:30 a.m.

Read more: Live updates: Tracking Tropical Storm Hilary as it approaches California

“A significant percentage of our workforce resides outside of the city of Los Angeles,” he added. “We know today that some of the access highways have been impacted.”

Monica Arrazola in Hollywood sometimes worries about her children falling behind academically when they miss school, but said she trusted the superintendent’s decision.

“It was a big worry what this storm could bring,” said Arrazola, who took the day off from work to stay with her two children as they worked on their school’s online assignments. She wants them to remember the tropical storm and understand its impact since it was such a big moment in L.A. history, she said.

Times staff writer Debbie Truong contributed to this story.

This article was reported with support from The Times’ early childhood education initiative, focusing on the learning and development of California children, from birth to age 5. For more information about the initiative and its philanthropic funders, go to latimes.com/earlyed.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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