Students, parents react with tears, concerns over school closure for rest of spring semester — likely through the summer

Printed+signs+like+this+are+taped+outside+Sunny+Hills+High+School%27s+main+office+doors+between+Rooms+3+and+7+as+a+reminder+to+the+community+that+the+campus+will+remain+closed+through+the+summer+unless+California+Gov.+Gavin+Newsom+lifts+his+stay-at-home+orders+in+response+to+the+coronavirus+pandemic.+Photo+taken+by+Accolade+adviser+Tommy+Li

Printed signs like this are taped outside Sunny Hills High School's main office doors between Rooms 3 and 7 as a reminder to the community that the campus will remain closed through the summer unless California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts his stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo taken by Accolade adviser Tommy Li

Aaliyah Magana

Senior Sarah Bankhead couldn’t stop refreshing the inbox of her school email on her iPhone 7+ after reading the latest announcement from Fullerton Joint Union High School District superintendent Scott Scambray.

Bankhead was hoping to read a subsequent notice from Scambray that would cancel out that first April 2 email, which contained Scambray’s message that schools in the district — including Sunny Hills — would remain closed for the rest of the spring semester.

“I was speechless at first; then [I] started crying for a long time and throughout the day,” Bankhead said. “It’s tough on everyone; yeah it’s rough for the seniors, but we’re strong.”

Bankhead’s reaction reflects a majority of the students who have been away from their classmates since March 16 — the first week that Scambray closed down all schools in the FJUHSD in response to the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has killed 19 in Orange County with 37 of the 1,283 county COVID-19 cases in Fullerton, according to an April 14 online Orange County Register article.

Bankhead’s mother, Susan Bankhead, is sad that her daughter and her senior peers will not get the chance to finish their year on campus and celebrate senior traditions like prom, the Paper Toss on their last day of school and a graduation ceremony with peers surrounding them and their friends and family in the audience.

“I’m heartbroken for her and all the seniors,” she said. “I hope that they get to celebrate their accomplishments [after stay-at-home orders are lifted] because they deserve it. [For her daughter], all of her close family and friends would be over at our house for appetizers, drinks and just be hanging out.”

But her daughter doesn’t think she’ll be in the mood to celebrate if the quarantine extends past the start of her freshman year in college.

“[The party] would be before I leave for college; if it was after I leave, then there’s no point in having one,” Sarah Bankhead said.

Bankhead represents many of the Class of 2020’s concern over how much the coronavirus crisis has seeped into the last few months of their senior year with the likelihood they will not be able to wear a cap and gown at the end of May at Fullerton Union High School’s stadium, where Sunny Hills holds its graduation ceremony. 

So far, principal Allen Whitten has communicated the following about graduation in his latest digital newsletter sent via email on April 10:

“Seniors, as we’ve mentioned before, please know that we are working on a plan [for] your graduation that we will be able to announce soon,” Whitten wrote. “While it will not be the traditional graduation ceremony we were all hoping for, in the true spirit of SHHS, it will be great, and I am excited about some of the ideas we are collecting to make it worthy of each of you and your accomplishments.”

For many 12th-graders like Albert Lee, they are already thinking that the ceremony will be similar to the Google Meet or Zoom sessions that they’ve been having with their teachers. Or, they could end up picking up their diploma in a drive-through fashion as they return their chromebooks and other textbooks amid the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” being broadcast through the school’s sound system.

“I feel like a virtual graduate because it is like we are scrambling to find a way to save our senior year,” Lee said.

Nevertheless, the senior appreciates the superintendent’s email correspondence to all stakeholders — students, parents and staff.

“I think that getting updates from emails early was the right decision,” Lee said. “It’s always best to consider the worst-case scenario, especially when it’s an emergency situation.”

Meanwhile, school officials have confirmed that other May events like Lancer Awards Night, Senior Breakfast and the last Stag Dance of the year have been canceled. The PTSA, though, continues to hold out for hope for a May 29 Grad Nite pending Disneyland’s decision as to whether the park will reopen by then.

No information has been available as to how yearbooks will be distributed to those who purchased them since before the school year started during Lancer Days, and the district is still deciding how teachers will handle grading for the rest of the school year through final semester grade reports.

But seniors are not the only ones who have felt a sense of loss for not being able to return to school.

Freshman Ana Olaguibel said her family was shocked when the district decided to start distance learning March 18. 

“We weren’t expecting the closure because the cases were not local, but we learned that the virus spreads faster than we thought,” Olaguibel said.

Olaguibel’s mother, Samara Delgado, said having her daughter finishing the semester at home will make understanding her teachers’ lessons harder though it’s still important for her child to learn.

“I’m confident that teachers will be able to teach her very well through a screen, but learning in person helps by making the lessons easier to learn,” Delgado said. 

Since distance learning started nearly a month ago, junior Henry Johnson said he has been overwhelmed with more work instead of less.

“My math and AVID classes [are giving more work]; other than those classes, my teachers understand the struggle and want to help,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, sophomore class president Joseph Roh, whose normal school day used to end at 7 p.m, now finds himself dealing with cabin fever, irritability from long hours inside his home. 

“All this free time can help, but I end up not knowing what to do and that makes me crazy,” Roh said. “Everything came to a stop, so it’s kind of weird having so much time.”

Since school will be closed through the rest of the semester and through the summer also as the district has already decided on continuing with distance learning during the summer school sessions, the situation has also made it more challenging for some of the couples on campus.

Sophomores Mckenzie Sinclair and Milen Patel, who have been together almost eight months, have chosen Facetime as their distance romance tool, watching movies together as one way to spend quality time together.

“I think we both understand that we can’t do anything about this, and we just have to wait it out,” Sinclair said. 

Patel agrees, adding: “It’s really unfortunate, and I do miss her a lot. We still find ways to make it a little better by Facetiming.”

Besides students, many of the teachers are worried about the lack of interaction that they’ve developed with their pupils in the classroom.

My biggest concern for continuing distance learning this semester is that my personal connection with my students will be lost,” science teacher Walter Haberaeker said.“I hope that through Zoom conferences, I can continue to make a personal impact on each of my students.” 

The principal said he is grateful for distance learning because it’s the best way to stay on schedule for the rest of the spring semester instead of just canceling it and making up the lost weeks in the fall pending the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I can’t imagine having students return in the fall in the same grade and not advancing until they complete this school year,” Whitten said.

As words of motivation to the graduating class and students who feel unmotivated to finish the school year strong, the principal would like to offer a combination of his mother’s saying and his own: “This too will pass and remember — once a Lancer, always a Lancer.”