Coronavirus Across Local High Schools

Anaïs Huet (she/her), Assistant Editor

*This article was written before the new masking rules in California


In light of recent surges of Coronavirus variants throughout California, Santa Cruz County Schools have reinforced a series of measures in order to maintain a low number of cases. All local public schools follow a guidance developed by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education in collaboration with the Santa Cruz County Public Health Department. This guidance regularly updates procedures to take for a range of potential COVID-19 related scenarios. 

I interviewed principals from various local high schools, both public and private, in order to get a sense for the general Coronavirus situation across our educational facilities. From proper ventilation systems to weekly COVID PCR testing, most schools seem to have successfully adapted to the volatile nature of the pandemic. 

Georgiana Bruce Kirby Preparatory School, more commonly known as Kirby, is an independent high school teaching grades 6-12. On account of the rise in Omicron cases in Santa Cruz, Kirby has enforced appropriate COVID-19 safety measures in classroom architecture and general school protocols. According to head of school Christy Hutton, Kirby has not had “a single case of on-campus transmission,” but has had “several COVID positive students on campus before we knew they were positive.” So far, over 70% of their students have been vaccinated and 100% of faculty are vaccinated. Resistance to vaccination is currently one of the main issues that schools face in their attempts to overcome the pandemic. By approaching misinformation-based vaccine opposition with education, Kirby has encouraged inoculation throughout their community, while still acknowledging the legitimate reasons a family might hesitate on these efforts. 

Furthermore, Kirby has greatly revised classroom equipment, updating ventilation systems and formulating an organized plan to keep appropriate health precautions during school hours. As Ms. Hutton reports, Kirby’s ventilation system is “only a few years old with MERV 13 filters and high air replacement rates in the classrooms.” Organization-wise, Kirby has strict, coordinated schedules and layouts to limit contact between students. With single occupancy bathrooms, 6 feet distanced class designs, two outdoor lunch shifts, and slow releases at the end of the day, the intensive efforts made to limit COVID-19 cases are quite evident. Further steps such as the implementation of PCR testing twice a week, requiring drinking out of a straw while indoors and using a “daily symptom screening app” in order to verify that students and staff are taking their temperature (thus passing the CDPH symptom screening proposal), Kirby has strongly adapted to the unpredictability of the pandemic. 

At Santa Cruz High School, COVID-19 safety protocols have also been updated and conformed to. They have adhered to the CDPH guidance and most recent data concerning the pandemic. Michelle Poirier, principal of SCHS, contacted me with more information on their current situation and efforts regarding vaccination, testing, and classroom renovations. 

In terms of unvaccinated students, their school board has thoroughly planned various measures in order to keep Coronavirus cases low while maintaining an understanding perspective on a heavily disputed subject. Biweekly COVID tests are mandatory for the unvaccinated, “in order to remain at school rather than undergo in-home quarantine and restrictions from extracurricular activities.” Their infrastructural renovations parallel those of Kirby, with increased attention on ventilation in classrooms. Geo H. Wilson, a local HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) company, has been engaged by the school district in order to inspect the air circulation of schools and adjust the rooms accordingly. Air filters, fans, or other HVAC systems were modified in order to maximize the flow of fresh air into classes. In regards to protocols that students and staff have to follow, general guides such as masking, social distancing, and testing have been strongly adhered to. Recently, cloth masks were discouraged and replaced with surgical or N95 masks, with a constant supply in each classroom. PCR tests have been available twice a week, and required for all exposed students or athletes, as well as for aforementioned mentioned unvaccinated students or staff.

Overall, all schools have been adequately prepared and ready to adapt to the unpredictability of the pandemic. The CDPH guidelines have served as the basis for COVID measures throughout the city, and students and staff have been compliant to the protocols related to those. 



CDPH – COVID-19 School Guidance Checklist

SCCOE – COVID-19 Health Guidelines for Schools