California schools face coronavirus: Closures, deep cleaning and anxious questions

Police officer monitors traffic as students arrive Thursday at Clifton Middle School in Monrovia
A police officer monitors traffic as students arrive Thursday at Clifton Middle School in Monrovia, where crews had performed a deep cleaning overnight after a parent came in contact with someone exposed to the coronavirus.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

With the coronavirus spreading in California, schools are beginning to feel the effects of the virus that has sickened dozens of people across the state and killed at least one person.

There have been no widespread school closures in the state, but officials are taking steps to close and clean schools where there is any possibility of virus contamination.

Which schools have been affected?

There have been a scattering of schools with potential contamination across the state, including a highly regarded magnet school in San Francisco.

Officials announced Thursday that, “for the safety and well-being of our community,” Lowell High School would close and cancel all events and gatherings for at least the rest of the week after it was learned that a relative of one of its students is being treated for COVID-19.


Clifton Middle School in Monrovia was deep-cleaned Thursday after officials became aware that a person who might have the virus had been on campus. Monrovia Unified School District President Robb Hammond said officials hired a company to disinfect the school.

In San Jose, a preschool closed after a teacher tested positive for the virus. An Oakland charter school was closed through the end of the week because of a possible exposure, and an exclusive private school in Atherton will be closed through the weekend after a potential exposure of someone connected to the school.

What are officials doing?

School officials are racing to educate students and families about the epidemic and slow the spread of germs among children, while also preparing contingency plans if they are forced to shut their doors as a last resort.

At the Los Angeles Unified School District, an official checks in every day with the county health department and asks three questions: Is anyone sick in L.A. County? Are there any exposures affecting schools? Can we go about things normally?

At the school level, overtime pay is available to allow for deeper and more thorough cleaning of “high-touch” areas.

Towel dispensers, doorknobs, staircase railings, computer keyboards, toys, bus seats, the coffee pot handle in the faculty lounge. The list goes on.


District officials have been asked to plan for myriad scenarios: What would happen if most of the payroll department called in sick? What if the IT department needed to be quarantined or if there was a break in the supply chain of the vast food-services operation?

L.A. Unified has an information video and a telephone hotline that is staffed from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. The number is: (213) 443-1300.

What about colleges?

At the University of California, President Janet Napolitano’s office released guidelines for all locations. The 19-page document includes information about distributing face3 masks, taking family and medical leave, quarantining students and reporting cases to local or state health authorities, among other questions.

Four students in the Los Rios Community College District — two at Sacramento City College and one each at American River College and Cosumnes River College — reported exposure to an individual confirmed to have COVID-19.

All of the exposures happened while the students were working off campus as medical professionals, the district said on its website. They were told to self-quarantine for 14 days and report any symptoms to county health officials.

Three UC Davis students had been placed in isolation but were released after one tested negative for the virus.

Three UCLA students are being tested, according to Los Angeles County health officials.

Cal State universities have canceled some study abroad programs.

Brandman University has temporarily canceled classes at its small San Diego campus and closed the other 24 campuses it operates in California and Washington. Most Brandman courses are already taken online, which should minimize disruptions for students, the school said.