Coronavirus threat forces Sunny Hills — and all Orange County public schools — to close next week; students on free and reduced lunch can pick up packed, to-go meals from campus

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The Fullerton Joint Union High School District announced its notice of closure from March 16-20 for all of its campuses -- including Sunny Hills -- in an Aeries communication email on Friday, March 13, at 1:37 p.m., 11 minutes after fifth period ended. The school was on a special ASB elections bell schedule that featured a 14-minute extended Period 2 for teachers to show two videos to students.

Tyler Pak

Accolade staff writers Hannah Kim, Hope Li and Aaliyah Magana, sports editor Andrew Ngo, business manager Umbert Caseres, photo editor Megan Shin and editor-in-chief Michelle Buckley contributed to this story. For more coronavirus coverage and other online stories, keep checking back to The Accolade’s online website throughout the March 16-20 school closure. Feel free to also email and tell us how you’re handling the week away from school: [email protected]

This story was updated with more student reaction quotes and statistics about the coronavirus at 11:43 p.m., March 14.

The specter of Friday the 13th made its presence felt just minutes after fifth period as Sunny Hills students, parents and staff were notified via email from the Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] that because of the spreading coronavirus threat, the campus will remain closed until March 30 — for now.

“In all my years in education I’ve never seen anything like [this],” principal Allen Whitten said. “But in this situation, I think it was the right thing to do, and I really appreciate the way our staff and students handled it.”

All six and two continuation school campuses in the FJUHSD are closed to students from March 16-20; the following week is spring break, which is why the message from the district mentions a return date of March 30.

“We will be moving to a Distance Learning Model [online],” superintendent Scott Scambray said in the FJUHSD’s notice of closure. “While the idea of Distance Learning is a significant shift from the typical learning model, we have been working with our teachers on a Distance Learning Platform to ensure that high-quality instruction continues.”

Though FJUHSD schools are set to reopen on March 30, officials are still awaiting state health agency recommendations. Meanwhile, student and staff reaction to the district’s news — as well as an earlier morning Aeries communication announcement that all March and April events have been canceled or postponed — ranged from confusion to optimism that the closure could be one step toward stopping the spread of this pandemic.

“Well tiddle my darns, this is confusing as heck,” senior Katie Pham said. “I don’t know if prom is going to be a thing, so I’ll probably not get a ticket.”

Spanish teacher Maria Torres said during sixth period Friday: “Hopefully things change for the positive. It’s crazy out there.”

In English teacher Tom Wiegman’s Advanced Placement [AP] Literature class sixth period Friday, students practiced distance learning by using Zoom and Google Meet, two web-based conferencing applications.

“I think that it’ll be a new experience, and obviously there’ll be technical difficulties,” said senior Albert Lee, one of Wiegman’s sixth period AP Literature students. “It may be chaotic because teachers don’t have a way to keep students from ‘going rogue’ and not showing up.”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT WEEK AND BEYOND?

FJUHSD schools, including Sunny Hills, are expected to follow their regular bell schedules. Teachers were instructed to use Google Classroom as their main platform to reach out to students.

“Honestly I’m kind of excited about this opportunity,” Whitten said. “Teachers are learning all kinds of new skills that can help students in a remote environment or in the classroom when we return.”

In a 10:58 a.m. March 14 email sent to students, the principal also encouraged Lancers to follow the bell schedule from home and tried to calm seniors’ concerns about the postponement of the April 4 prom.

“If you have a zero period class, you should be ready to go at the normal time and the same applies to all classes,” Whitten wrote. “Each teacher will have slightly different approaches to this, so stay flexible and open to each format. As we always do, we will get through this by supporting one another and staying positive!

“On another note, I know many of you are concerned about prom and other traditions that we don’t want to lose this year,” the principal’s note continues. “For now, prom is just postponed, and we are going to do everything we can to preserve all of the great Sunny Hills traditions — especially for our awesome seniors.”

Freshman Joya Blaho is concerned for how the coronavirus threat could affect her senior sister’s high school experience.

“I think it’s important that we keep our traditions at Sunny Hills,” Blaho said. “I feel terrible that these events might not happen. My sister is a senior, and she is very upset, and I feel sad knowing she will not get all the things we grew up dreaming about.”

HOW HAS SCHOOL CLOSURE AFFECTED SPORTS?

Athletics director Jon Caffrey said Friday no sports events will take place for two weeks — practices and games included. This means that events such as Sunny Hills’ track meet set for Saturday, March 14, has been canceled.

That information from Caffrey came on March 13 at 3:51 p.m. in response to questions that Accolade co-sports editor Andrew Ngo had texted to the athletics director — several hours after President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national state of emergency and the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision to close all of its schools.

Nevertheless, student athletes had to rely on text or social media notifications about their sports practice and games, especially for this weekend. Spring sports coaches also sent emails or texts to players about canceled practices and events until March 30.

“Freshman Baseball: Season suspended until at least March 30. Try to keep your arms strong and take swings so that when we restart, you will be ready,” according to a 3:04 p.m. March 13 text from freshman baseball coach Doug Senne. “Private instruction session Sat, Sun, and/or Tues. I instruct pitching, hitting, catching, throwing, and position specific skills.”

First-year junior varsity softball coach Kiana Scott sent this 11:17 a.m. text to her players a few hours before the district’s announcement about school closure: “All games are canceled until further notice.”

Boys golf coach Scott Enrico sent this email to parents of his players at 8:31 p.m., March 13: “Unfortunately, all sports are cancelled until further notice. This includes all matches scheduled for next week and team practices. I hope that the season will be able to continue in a few weeks. I will let you all know what is happening as soon as I can.”

Though boys volleyball was allowed to play on Thursday, March 12, in the gym — without fans in attendance — it was unclear whether the team will be able to play its first Freeway League match scheduled for April 1, the day after the scheduled March 30 return date for students.

“Playing without an audience made me feel less motivated,” libero volleyball player junior Ethan Lim said. “I didn’t hear my friends screaming my name, so I don’t think I played at my full potential. If we aren’t able to play our first league match, I would be very sad and disappointed because we put so much work into this program.”

HOW HAS CORONAVIRUS THREAT IMPACTED MARCH AND APRIL SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC EVENTS ON AND OFF CAMPUS?

On March 12, Scambray announced via Aeries communication the cancellation or postponement of all field trips, non-essential small and large gatherings, meetings, events, assemblies, school open houses, performances, festivals and other activities.

Scambray made this announcement following California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health’s guidelines issued earlier that day, restricting the assembly of 250 people or more in enclosed spaces. That led to the cancellation of the Friday, March 13, ASB elections assembly.

To accommodate for such a change, administrators decided to modify the bell schedule, allotting 14 more minutes to students’ Period 2 classes, which meant all the other classes lost two minutes.

Assistant principal Hilda Arredondo emailed teachers that morning at 8:19 about showing the attached videos of ASB candidates’ campaign presentations as well as of the cheer team performing in a special routine with male athletes, which had originally been scheduled as a live event.

“I was bummed our videos wouldn’t be shown with a large audience for more ‘hype,’ ” said ASB publicity commissioner junior Kathryn Aurelio, who was running for ASB secretary. “I was a bit glad we didn’t have to stay late [the night before and] wake up really early [Friday] to finish the large class posters.

“I know our pep committee worked really hard to coordinate with candidates and sports teams, plan out decorations and create the emcee script as well.”

As of March 14, it was highly unlikely that the April 4 prom would take place at the W Hotel in Hollywood as Los Angeles County health officials have a reported 53 patients testing positive for COVID-19 — a number that is expected to grow even as many are beginning to self-quarantine.

According to health records, the virus can cause pneumonia, and in severe cases organ failure. So far, only those who have had low immune systems and are much older have died from it, as Los Angeles County reported its first coronavirus-related death of a woman in her 60s March 11, according to a March 12 online Los Angeles Times article.

Junior class president Daniel Magpayo, who is in charge of planning prom, was upset that the future of the dance is uncertain as the planned venue had to be reserved two to three years in advance.

“Throughout my junior year, I’ve been working really hard to try to make this prom perfect for not only the seniors, but also the juniors,” said Magpayo, who ran unopposed for ASB president for the 2020-2021 school year. “I just feel like everything I’ve worked for this year just went to waste.”

Senior Alex Alonzo, a Bayanihan Club cabinet member, was disappointed in the turn of events as he planned to perform at Pilipino Culture Night on April 18.

“The [Performing Arts Center] is completely off limits,” Alonzo said. “The only chance we would have of performing would be on a weekday when we get back, which would probably be on like a Tuesday night — no one’s going to show up for that. It really just sucks because a lot of people in their club put their efforts into this, and it just derailed.”

Students who planned to take the March 14 SAT in California, like junior Elliana Kim, were forced to change their plans as the College Board announced that certain test centers had closed and exams would be rescheduled.

“I am happy that it got rescheduled because I have more time to study for it but also disappointed because I studied for it,” said Kim, who was registered to take the test at Valencia High School. “I’m also scared because I don’t know when it’ll be rescheduled.”

As of March 13, FJUHSD school offices will remain open, and each campus plans to provide meals for students who qualify for a free and reduced lunch from 10 a.m. to noon, March 16-20 in the cafeteria, Scambray said.