Acalanes High School was closed on March 14 because of the continued spread of the coronavirus.
Following a countywide shelter-in-place order two days later, many community members confined themselves almost entirely to their homes.
“With the shelter in place, I’m not allowed to leave my house other than to do outdoor activities like walking or hiking. I’ve been spending a lot of time inside with my family,” Acalanes junior Maria Toldi said.
“I think it affects our community because it’s bad for a lot of the restaurants and the family-owned businesses,” Toldi said.
Acalanes Union High School District Superintendent John Nickerson first addressed the coronavirus in an email to students and parents on Feb. 28.
“There have been many meetings with district and site administrators ranging from people in charge of instructional programs to people in charge of cleaning and maintenance and purchasing supplies to anticipate what the needs are going to be,” Nickerson said.
In a presentation delivered to students on March 11, anticipating the shutdown, district officials stated:
“Teachers will post assignments to students on School Loop. Teachers and counselors will respond to student emails sent during regular school hours. Students are expected to complete all assignments provided by teachers during the closure. Assignments are meant to maintain continuity of learning, but will not be able to fully replicate in-class experiences such as science labs, group discussions, etc,”
Students have continued to learn remotely during the closure, which will continue at least until the end of the school year. However, many students anticipated having difficulty learning online.
“I honestly think that online school is a lot harder to learn from, and it’s easier to learn for me at least with a teacher right in front of me and being able to interact. I feel like a lot of things can get misinterpreted online, and it’s harder to learn material online,” sophomore Scarlett Pappalardo said.
Advanced Placement (AP) testing will be administered to accommodate an altered, online experience. Tests are now open book and significantly shorter. The College Board has cancelled other standardized tests, such as the SAT, until further notice.
Acalanes nurse Dvora Citron addressed the potential outcomes of the school closures and other changes.
“There’s some advantages and disadvantages to school closures because closing a school really has an impact on our whole community in many ways, economically, mental health-wise too. People are panicking and there’s a lot of, in a certain sense, hysteria happening. But what we don’t want to see happen is ‘OK, no school,’ and then have people congregating in other areas that in fact are even more dangerous and less safe than being in school,” Citron said.
The district advises frequent hand washing and sanitizing and avoidance of sick individuals, among other safety measures.
“Staying healthy involves eating nutritious food and getting enough sleep. Those I think are the two most important things that students can do to stay healthy,” Citron said.
Citron defines adequate sleep as eight to ten hours per night and recommends eating a balanced diet with fresh fruit and vegetables. She also suggests exercise and stress reduction.
Along with health recommendations, the Mar. 11 presentation provided government websites with up-to-date information as sources for student questions. However, some students continue to get the majority of their information from social media.
Some students were first notified of the existence of COVID-19 through popular social media sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.
“I saw it on TikTok first. Nobody really knew what was happening, yet,” sophomore Annalise Harhay said.
School staff members urge students to seek more reliable sources.
“We know students here get a lot of information for other students. We know that people use all kinds of social media. So we’re encouraging students to use two sources, the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization,” Wellness Intake specialist Casey Sasner said.
Nurse Citron also suggests students get information from the Contra Costa County Health Department and the California Department of Public Health in lieu of social media.
Social media has also exposed students to instances of paranoia and racial profiling. Many students confessed to seeing offensive memes and harassment on social media platforms.
“I definitely know that on some social media platforms such as TikTok, there has been some discrimination,” junior Nicole Frigon said.
Students have also seen instances of profiling on Instagram.
“I haven’t seen or heard anything first hand but I’ve seen several posts on Instagram about it. I would hope that at least nobody at our school would point fingers at others just because of their race because race is completely irrelevant to the spread of the virus and blaming wouldn’t do anything anyway,” sophomore Aly Kirke said.
Although some students may not be directly exposed to it, there have been instances of racial profiling in the district as well.
“We have had some incidents of racist behavior and of bullying behavior and things like that,” Nickerson said.
Junior William Zhang has experienced this profiling firsthand.
“I’ve received a lot of racial profiling because I am Chinese. Not that I mind the jokes. I just hear a lot of insensitive things that should not be said about the virus and my relation to the virus,” Zhang said.
Students have also noticed racial profiling off-campus.
“We were in a Chinese restaurant and someone started coughing and everyone started staring at them because they were Asian,” junior Sabrina Alesna said.
The district has made it clear that racism is unacceptable.
“Our schools will not tolerate and will actively address such harmful behavior,” said Nickerson in an email to the district community.
Prior to school closures, the Wellness Centers provided resources to students struggling amidst confusion and anxiety.
“The number one thing that I always recommend as a mindfulness and meditation teacher is being present. (Recognizing) that the present is the only time that we are really actually here. We have a future that we imagine, right? And of course, we’re going to worry about things that could happen, but I think we have to talk back to those worries and come back to the present,” Sasner of the Wellness Center said.
Although many students are not worried about their own health, the disruption caused by COVID-19 can be stressful.
“I’m not necessarily scared of catching the virus, it’s more about how the coronavirus will affect my daily life, such as school, vacation, family, etc., whereas I never really questioned how the other viruses would affect me,” junior Lucy Bakar said.
COVID-19 has disrupted the stock market and countless industries. The threat of coronavirus especially impacts industries connected to travel, such as airlines and hospitality.
“My dad is a pilot, and the airlines are having a lot of trouble now, so if United were to go bankrupt and go out of business, my dad wouldn’t have a job,” Harhay said.
Companies have also canceled travel for their employees, disrupting the work schedules of many Acalanes parents.
“My dad had to cancel meetings and my mom was told to come to work only when necessary,” Kirke said.
Even individuals whose businesses have not prohibited travel are taking precautions.
“My dad is working from home because my mom doesn’t want him to go to work and get sick,” senior Isabella Gonzalez said.
As regulations and fear surrounding travel increase, many families have canceled spring break plans.
“I was going to go on vacation during spring break but now it looks like that will not happen, and my parents were going to go to Italy but they aren’t anymore,” sophomore Kenneth Hilton said.
Many students intending to visit colleges have also changed plans as campuses shut down and cancel tours. Universities have shifted to online teaching plans to prevent the spread of the virus.
“My sister goes to college in Santa Barbara and her school just got canceled today. She now has to take her classes online for the next two quarters of school. Because of this, she may not get all the classes she wanted to take and might struggle to get all her credits, like most of the students at her school,” Bakar said.
According to Citron, immuno-compromised individuals are especially at risk.
“Immuno-compromised might mean they have a history of cancer and are receiving treatment or have recently received treatment for cancer, which could be chemotherapy, radiation, whatever. There are people who have autoimmune disorders that are more compromised,” Citron said.
As the elderly are especially vulnerable to the virus, many students have expressed concerns for older people.
“I’m nervous for my grandparents because this disease is known to take the lives of the elderly,” sophomore Joe McCauley said.
According to Citron, elderly individuals are more susceptible to the virus because of their weakened immune systems.
“Their immune systems are compromised and they’re more frail and you see effective, healthy organ function beginning to diminish at an older age,” Citron said.
The virus is also likely to affect smokers more heavily. This includes individuals who smoke e-cigarettes, putting some students at risk.
“When you’re a smoker, you’re more vulnerable to all germs and you get sick more easily. And this is a respiratory illness. So you’re really at risk,” Citron said.
Students with family in heavily affected areas are subjected to additional stress. Zhang, who has family in China, spoke to the harsh conditions there following the outbreak. According to Zhang, all schools were shut down, the internet can’t handle the vast quantity of online students, most businesses are shut down, and food is scarce.
“The situation right now is awful in China and my family over there is falling apart over the virus. Also, my aunt is a nurse in the hospital… there are countless cases each day. She’s on call 24/7 and barely sleeps,” Zhang said in March.
Zhang also addressed the nationalist attitude that persists in China.
“Despite the conditions my grandparents and a lot of other Chinese citizens are in, they still retain the illusion that the virus is under control. My grandma even said ‘the U.S. has to get its act together’ and that ‘China has dealt with the case a lot better than the U.S. has,”’ Zhang said.
Anticipating similar conditions to heavily affected countries, many families prepared exhaustively for quarantine.
“I think everyone is taking precautions to prepare for if they are impacted by the virus, so I think that has impacted a lot of people in terms of stocking up on food and water if they can’t leave their house,” sophomore Franny Daughters said.
Many individuals continue to purchase cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and other provisions in bulk in the midst of the shelter in place order.
“You go to stores and stuff and you see that aisles and aisles of medicine are just empty, and cleaning supplies are empty,” Pappalardo said.
Some consider this an overreaction exacerbated by excessive media coverage.
“I feel like the media has definitely played a huge part in dramatizing this. It’s making it seem like the world is coming to an end and there are all these official health warnings, but if you look at the straight facts it’s not as scary as they’re making it be. It’s a virus. We should try to not get it just like any other virus,” sophomore Autumn Long said.
The Acalanes district addressed these varied responses and continues to emphasize the importance of staying informed.
“I’m sure there are some that are having an overreaction. There are some that are having an under-reaction. I think everybody’s circumstances are different,” Nickerson said.
As the situation continues to unfold, the district continues to work with county officials to promote the safety and health of the local community.
“There have been many phone conferences with all of the county superintendents and consultation with the Contra Costa health services. There have been discussions with our bargaining units. Those are some of the things that are happening daily as we continue to plan for this,” Nickerson said.
School staff members encourage students to foster a healthy lifestyle and community amidst the confusing situation.
“I think that this is really an unprecedented event that none of us really have seen happen like this before. And it offers us a lot of opportunities to look and see how we want to engage as a community to infuse health and wellness. What’s our part in it? We have an opportunity to really be of service to our community and ourselves,” Citron said.