COVID-19 pandemic forces UPA campus closure

SCCOE closes all public schools in Santa Clara County as a preventative measure


Chelsea Nguyen

Executive Director David Porter speaks to Aquila about the details of the shutdown during a press conference on March 13. A video of the press conference can be found on our YouTube channel, Aquila Broadcast, as well as our Instagram, @upa_aquila.

The Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) announced at 11:30 a.m. on March 13 that all public schools in Santa Clara County will be closed to school attendance from March 16 to April 3 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are 79 confirmed cases and two deaths in Santa Clara County as of Friday at 8 p.m., and counties surrounding Santa Clara have already shut down schools like Alameda Unified, San Francisco Unified, Oakland Unified School District, San Mateo County and Santa Cruz County among others.

“I’m going to spend so much time looking at the clock and thinking ‘I’d be in third period right now,’” seventh-grader Kyle Pantoja said, reacting to the idea of learning remotely.

UPA will be transitioning to digital learning for the next three weeks while campus learning is suspended.

The SCCOE worked in conjunction with the Santa Clara County Health Department to make the decision to close schools even without confirmed COVID-19 cases, as is the case with UPA. 

If a student or staff member is to contract COVID-19 during the shutdown period, they should first call their healthcare provider and then notify the school through an email, phone call or text message. Executive Director David Porter provided his personal phone number in multiple emails for this purpose.

“The number one goal of the school system, of the county health department, is to ensure the safety and the health of all students and staff, and that is exactly what we are trying to do,” Porter said.

“Essential operations” will continue, so administrators and front office staff will still be on campus.

Executive Director David Porter has mixed feelings about the shutdown. First and foremost, he is in favor of protecting the health of students and their families.

“I would not be able to live with myself if we put a student unnecessarily in harm’s way,” Porter said. 

However, he acknowledged some students might find it difficult to self motivate or stay focused with online courses.

“I am in the business of teaching and educating students, and I am in the business of trying to connect all of our students to their futures. This is a disruption to that,” Porter said.

In terms of what digital learning will look like for UPA, teachers have been instructed to upload assignments to PowerSchool by 8 a.m. Monday through Friday. In order to avoid extending instructional days into summer, students are expected to complete the same amount of work they would on a typical day at school; the state requires a certain number of instructional minutes per school year, and producing work is a way to prove those minutes. 

Teachers were briefed about how to configure classes for an online environment during a meeting after school on March 12 and a lunch meeting on March 13, but are currently still in the process of determining the best way to adapt lessons. Some teachers have decided to use platforms like Google Classroom and Zoom in addition to PowerSchool.

English teacher Andrea Aquino is still modifying her lessons to work online.

“I feel like there are really creative things I could do, but I want to keep it simple and I want to keep it easy for the kids to access,” Aquino said. “I’m not worried about the disease; I’m more worried about keeping things going.” 

Teachers are encouraging students to check their email frequently for class updates. As for having a computer to check those emails with, UPA plans to loan Chromebooks to students without access to one on Monday, March 16 starting at 8:30 a.m. at the main office. Additionally, UPA has partnered with Sprint to be able to loan WiFi hotspots to students in need of a stable internet connection.

While remote learning digitally occurs, the campus will be deep cleaned following state measures using the company Cintas. 

Although the goal is to follow the original school year calendar, Spring Break will more than likely be canceled to make up for instructional time lost during the shutdown. 

All sports participation has been suspended by UPA’s league, PSAL, until mid-April; all theater events have been postponed. Decisions have yet to be made about prom or graduation, but if those events are to happen, strict protocols outlined by the state health department will have to be followed according to Porter.

“It would break my heart if we had to alter those [events], but we all have to understand that this is a new era, and we have not faced this type of situation before,” Porter said.

UPA is currently coordinating with the companies hosting recently canceled trips, like the band’s concert trip to New Orleans and the annual eighth-grade Washington D.C. trip, to reimburse families if postponement is not an option.

Because of the uncertain nature of the situation, logistical aspects like AP and state testing could fluctuate.

Even the decision to shut down UPA was an abrupt turn from what was discussed at March 12’s 3:45 p.m. all-staff meeting. At that time, the SCCOE ordered public schools to close only in the event of multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases.

At 12:07 p.m., students were alerted via an email sent by Director of Curriculum Matt Daughterty that the SCCOE changed its decision.

UPA’s student body had mixed reactions to the news. 

Screams of joy and excitement could be heard all over the school as students opened Daughtery’s email. 

Freshman Mahima Bhella feels safer now that school is canceled. 

“Every time you see hand sanitizer, everyone wants to use it, and you’re so on guard,” Bhella said. “At home I can just relax, and it’s so much easier.”

On the other hand, senior Unity Aldaco is upset school will not be held in person. She is frustrated the direct contact with her teachers will be interrupted and is nervous her grades might slip.

“It’s just a lot of pressure, and there’s no way to know when it’s gonna end,” Aldaco said. “So that sucks. I’m just very overwhelmed and upset.”

Seventh-grader Vishaka Anand is also worried about her schoolwork.

“I hate it,” Anand said. “I love school. I love all my teachers. I just want to come to school.”

School shutdowns around the country are devastating seniors, canceling their senior sports seasons and other major “lasts.” Senior Ashlyn Huynh shares this irritation. 

“It’s the last few months of high school, and I’m never going to get high school back,” Huynh said. “I don’t want to spend my last month of high school sitting at home and doing homework.”

Aquila will continue to provide accurate, up-to-date information regarding UPA’s closure. For the full press conference with Executive Director David Porter, visit our YouTube Channel, Aquila Broadcast, or Instagram, @upa_aquila. We encourage the UPA community to continually check their email for official messages from Porter with updated information.