Coronavirus COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


This SCSD COVID-19 FAQ document will remain updated and available until the COVID-19 outbreak has ended. Check this site regularly for the most up to date information from SCSD staff. We will add dates next to the headers of updated sections.


What is the Shelter-In-Place order for San Mateo County? (3/17/20)

As of March 17, San Mateo County has been ordered to Shelter-in-Place. People are required to stay at home except for essential needs. The intent of the order is to ensure the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible. This order is in effect until April 7. It may be extended depending on recommendations from public health officials.

How can my child receive lunch while schools are closed? (3/16/20)
We are providing a modified lunch service while schools are closed. Lunches can be picked up at Central Middle School’s Mustang Hall on Chestnut Ave. between 11:00 am-12:00 pm. Complimentary meals, breakfast and lunch, will be available for pick up at multiple sites in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park from 10:00 am-1:00 pm for children in the Ravenswood community, 18 years & younger. See our School Lunch Program page for more information.

What is “coronavirus” and what is COVID-19; how are they different? 

COVID-19 is the name for the “novel coronavirus” which originated in Wuhan, China in 2019. Coronavirus is an umbrella term. There are many strains of coronavirus. The current situation relates specifically to COVID-19. From here forward, the coronavirus strand in question will be referred to as COVID-19. 


What is the most recent email communication from Superintendent Harmeier regarding the COVID-19? 

To review Dr. Harmeier's communications, click here

All San Mateo County school districts are coordinating messaging; however, each district has its own unique communication plan and style. In SCSD, we will send periodic emails when necessary and regularly update this SCSD COVID-19 FAQ page for up to the minute changes and direction. We will attempt to manage fear by providing emails only when necessary as to support our community in remaining calm, accessing correct information, and focusing on controlling what we can control.


How is the District managing the decision making and communication regarding COVID-19? 

Superintendent Harmeier has assembled a COVID-19 Response Team that includes leads from the following parts of the organization. The Response Team receives daily communication from Superintendent Harmeier. The team is privy to the latest information from local and state officials. The team will convene when major decisions need to be made based on direction from the San Mateo County Health Department and the San Mateo County Office of Education.

  • School Board
  • Site Administration
  • Health and Nursing
  • Custodial & Transportation Services
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • Student Services
  • Human Resources
  • Community Relations


What are the dangers to children and how might they be different than for adults? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have provided these answers as it relates to children and COVID-19.


What PRECAUTIONS can I take to help avoid contracting COVID-19 or exposing my children to it? 

The SMC Health Department and other health officials are clear that the same precautions you would use for the seasonal flu, you should employ to guard against COVID-19. As recommended by San Mateo County Health:

  1. Cover your cough and sneeze. 
  2. Wash your hands frequently. 
  3. Avoid shaking hands and touching your face with unwashed hands. 
  4. If you are not feeling well or are experiencing cold, flu, or other symptoms, contact your primary care provider and stay home from school or work.
  5. Like washing your hands, wearing a surgical mask may help a bit but you need to know that surgical masks don’t offer much protection when they are worn by people who are well. They are most helpful when worn by those who are already sick so that they are less likely to transmit the disease to others. Surgical masks are already in short supply and should be prioritized for use in health care settings.
  6. You should use a barrier, such as a paper towel or tissue, to touch commonly touched surfaces, such as bathroom door handles or elevator buttons.

What can I do to PREPARE my family and me for COVID-19’s future spread? 

There is no way of knowing how COVID-19 will spread, who has it, and if or how someone will get it. The virus situation changes by the hour. As of February 28, 2020 confirmed cases are limited but growing. The first confirmed cases of “community transmission” have been reported in the area, thus resulting in changes to how the virus’s spread will be approached. 


The most important thing that you can do besides regular flu precautions is to PREPARE for infection and/or the impacts of infection. You can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for suggestions on preparing your home and life; Dr. Scott Morrow of SMC Health Department recommends asking yourself these questions:

  1. How will I take care of myself if I become sick?
  2. How will I take care of my family if they become sick?
  3. If school needs to be cancelled for some reason, what child care would I need to arrange? 
  4. What supplies might I need to stock up on that are readily available in case the supply chain is interrupted for some reason? 

Some other questions you might ask yourself are:

  1. Do I have an ample supply of my daily medications, critical meds, and any medications that would be necessary to treat symptoms of the flu? (Example: adult and children’s acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and/or cough medicine.)
  2. Is my earthquake kit up to date and ready to go in as much as it has general emergency supplies that might be of help? (Of course, having supplies beyond the typical earthquake kit is a good idea. What you decide to have on hand is based on your individual and family situation.)

Knowing answers to these questions prior to an elevated situation will go a long way to ensuring your comfort and safety in a myriad of scenarios.


What is one of the biggest dangers in a potential or confirmed “pandemic” situation and how can I manage this danger? 

Humans often manage communication using “mirror neurons.” Mirror neurons observe the behavior and emotion of others (or the news media) and our brains react by mirroring the emotion. Understanding this, it is important to manage our mirror neurons in times of heightened fear to protect ourselves from becoming susceptible to inaccurate or emotionally-charged information. There is a lot of fear due to the unknown. We can de-escalate our mirror neurons by staying calm, remaining informed, and controlling what we have control over (such as precaution and preparation). The more we can manage our mirror neurons, the more logically we can respond. 


Remember that children’s “mirror neurons” are also in full effect. If we approach information in a calm, informed, age-appropriate manner, we are most likely to help our children manage any potential fear or confusion. 


How should I talk to my child about the COVID-19? (Revised 3/5/2020)

There is no "right way" to talk to your child about hard subjects. Every child and every family is different. SCSD school principals, counselors and your classroom teachers are available daily to receive your emails of concern should your child be experiencing acute anxiety around COVID-19. Please feel free to reach out. Here are some resources you may find helpful as you talk to your child:


Will schools know if a student has been exposed to COVID-19 and will SCSD close school if someone is believed to have been exposed?

San Mateo County Health Department made it clear to us that it is nearly impossible to know now when or if someone is exposed. The first phase of the COVID-19 response was to contain, but recent changes in the spread mean that anyone could have been exposed, any time, at any location. Unless otherwise told to do so, the school district will not close school due to suspected exposure and no child or adult should be made to feel unsafe or unaccepted by assumption or innuendo. Anyone who feels they may have been exposed should contact their primary care physician. 


Will the district know if a district student or a student’s family has contracted COVID-19? 

Not necessarily. The Health Department will be in charge of care and direction for isolation. District officials will remain in contact with the County Health Department and take direction from them. 


Under what conditions might a school close? 

It is too early to tell. However, SCSD is engaging in preparation measures to ensure that learning can continue in any situation. San Mateo County Office of Education is providing guidelines for responding to a pandemic this week and will remain in close contact with the Health Department. Should a school closure occur, we will communicate reasons and expectations. School closures would only occur in the best interest of the health of our community and with the advice of the SMC Health Department and other agencies. 


If my child has a compromised immune system, should I be more concerned about COVID-19? 

COVID-19 is also known as the "novel" coronavirus because it is "new." There is still a lot researchers do not know. Early results of the outbreak seem to indicate that the most severe consequences of contracting COVID-19 are concentrated in older adults (50+) and those with compromised immune systems. SCSD is unable to provide medical advice. However, if your student suffers from a compromised immune system, we do encourage you to reach out to your primary care physician to inquire about participation in events beyond daily school attendance; this would include: Outdoor Ed, Washington DC trip, etc. Parents of students with IEP-related medical issues or medical plans are welcome to reach out to a SCSD Nurse with specific questions. 


If I am worried about the spread of the disease, should I keep my child home?

Keeping your child home for any reason is a personal choice; however, SCSD does not recommend making attendance decisions based on fear. If your child is healthy they should attend school. If your child is sick with any illness, they should stay home to avoid spread and to get better. 


Are absences excused or unexcused?

Attendance guidelines are set by the California Education Code. If your child is sick, please keep them home and have them seen by a medical professional. Their absences are “excused.” Fear of contamination without school closure or student illness is not an “excused” reason to be absent, according to California Education Code; that does not mean you can’t keep your child home. It simply means that SCSD is required to tag it as unexcused. We encourage all children to attend school if they are not sick. 


All students in SCSD are able to make-up missed work, whether their absence is excused or unexcused. District policy requires that students absent longer than three days are required to submit a doctor’s note for excusal. 


When should I keep my child home?

As long as the COVID-19 concern remains, we will have slightly more conservative "stay at home" symptom standards. Any time your child exhibits even mild cold/flu-like symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat and/or respiratory symptoms (such as shortness of breath, sneezing, etc.), they should stay home. Fever need not be present to keep your child at home


What if I think my child may have been exposed to COVID-19?

If your child has any of the symptoms referenced above and has been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread, your child should stay home and you should call your doctor right away. Please notify your school office immediately if you think your child may have been exposed. For more guidance see the CDC's COVID-19 information site.


What events, if any, will or has SCSD cancelled in light of the COVID-19 outbreak?

At this time, no events in SCSD have been cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. While it is a good practice at all times, it is especially important during the COVID-19 outbreak that if you are feeling sick or have an elevated temperature to stay home. 


If you or your child has a compromised immune system and you are worried about participation in any one of these experiences, please contact your health provider for their recommendation on participation. Until further notice, all gatherings related to the school district should be considered "no hand-shake events." Please refrain from handshaking and hugging as those increase chances of spread. We recommend a friendly elbow tap or simple hello as a greeting during this season of increased concern. Please also refrain from and encourage children to not share drinks, food, and personal supplies during this time. Thanks for your attention and cooperation.


How will SCSD handle field trips until COVID-19 spread is controlled?

SCSD will make decisions about field trip precautions or cancellation on a case-by-case basis. SCSD is gathering a list of all planned field trips that are scheduled to occur for the remainder of the year and will make a decision about each based on our ability to manage relative risk. Field trips that pose an unnecessary risk of exposure will be considered for cancellation. Overnight field trips and those that parents have already invested money in which to participate will be considered separately from those that are more easily avoided. Communication about each specific field trip will come from the teacher or the school site. It is ALWAYS the purview of the parent to assess the level of risk to which they want to subject their own child. Parents are welcome to choose not to participate in any field trip experience.


For all overnight field trips or any other trip designated by administration, SCSD nursing staff will be present to take the temperature of all students immediately prior to departure. Students must be fever-free (without fever-reducing medication) for 24 hours prior to joining any trip. If a child has a fever of 100 degrees F and above, confirmed by multiple temperature readings, the student will be unable to participate in the field trip and parents will be called to come pick up their child. If a child has a temperature above 99 degrees F but below 100 degrees F, the student will be asked to remove extra layers of clothing, sit down and wait 10-15 minutes to have their temperature rechecked. Students will then be assessed for additional cold/flu-like symptoms. The decision to participate is the District's nursing staff's to make and it is final; parent cooperation and understanding is appreciated. 


What cleaning precaution is SCSD taking to help alleviate the spread of illness? 

San Mateo County Health Department offers no special cleaning directions during this period beyond the high standard of SCSD cleaning practices. However, out of an abundance of caution and to alleviate fears, our hard-working custodial staff have all received reminders of their training and specific guidelines to daily disinfect high-traffic locations such as door handles, faucet handles, phones, physical education equipment, drinking fountains, and all student learning surfaces. SCSD uses state-recommended cleaning materials with fidelity. All soap dispensers will be filled daily. Staff are encouraged to immediately report any empty soap dispensers to site custodial staff. SCSD will also provide hand sanitizer on all buses and vans used to transport students and will clean and disinfect student transportation vehicles daily.


What hand washing precautions is SCSD taking to help alleviate the spread of illness? 

Handwashing is always recommended during the cold and flu season; this season is no exception. Proper handwashing is one of the most effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19. SCSD staff have been asked to remind and encourage students, in age-appropriate ways, to wash their hands. Students are encouraged to pay special attention to washing hands before eating and at the end of recess/playtime. Most SCSD classrooms are equipped with faucets and soap dispensers. SCSD teachers have been told that it is understandable during this cold and flu season if a few minutes of instructional time is used to ensure students can wash hands.


Schools provide every classroom with hand sanitizer pumps and the District ordered multiple gallons of refill sanitizer to have on hand. Feel free to put a travel-size hand sanitizer in your child’s backpack. (If you find the supply of hand sanitizer at stores running low, here is an article with instructions on making hand sanitizer at home.) Please note, there is no guarantee that this precaution will prevent the spread of any contagion. It is simply a provision that may help to decrease risk. Parents are asked to encourage their children to wash hands regularly AND to practice, especially with younger children, appropriate and effective handwashing practices


How is SCSD handling family travel and/or new students during the COVID-19 threat? 

Schools cannot limit or control the travel or registration of any family; travel restrictions are the responsibility of the federal government. However, SCSD will take the proper and legal precautions to ensure the health and safety of its students and staff. SCSD will refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel guidelines, which categorize countries by level of COVID-19 transmission. Travel from any country identified by the CDC as "Level 3" (widespread community transmission, avoid non-essential travel) will result in greater screening practices prior to attending school. These practices may include: 

  • A 14-day self-quarantine, and
  • A note from the primary care physician attesting to the good health of the student or staff member. 

SCSD remains a welcoming place respectful of its role as a public institution. No student, staff, or family should experience prejudice, judgment, or innuendo due to their travel history, especially knowing that SCSD is fulfilling its obligation to ensure the health and well being of all students, staff, and families. 


What local, state, or national communication has the district received and provided to parents through this COVID-19 FAQ?


How will SCSD handle campus visitors until COVID-19 spread is controlled? (Added 3/5/2020)

As is always the case, visitors are required to sign in at the school office every time they arrive on campus and wear a visitor badge. Until the COVID-19 spread is controlled, school visitors will be limited to immediate family of students only. Visitors will be asked if they have recently travelled to a CDC Level 3 country or have any other possible exposure to COVID-19. Visitors who have potential exposure or are at high risk will be asked not to be on campus at this time. Additionally:

    • If you are experiencing even mild cold/flu-like symptoms, with or without fever, please do not visit campus.
    • Any campus visitor, even a known parent, who is not wearing a visitor badge will be asked to return to the school office to check in.
    • Campus visitors are requested to follow the handwashing practices that staff and students are practicing. See question in this FAQ about proper handwashing.


Who should I contact at the District if I have questions or information? 

Please know that we have access to the most updated information and news. While we appreciate the articles and resources you send, we feel confident we are getting the information we need.


If you have questions or information about your own child’s health, please contact your school’s office. 


If you have questions or information about this FAQ or about SCSD's COVID-19 response in general, please contact your school principal.


How often should I check SCSD's COVID-19 FAQ? 

As often as you feel necessary. The information will be maintained daily and the most current information will be included in the document. If important information is shared that parents need to know, we will email you to alert you to additions or changes to the COVID-19 FAQ. SCSD will provide the most up-to-date links from local, state, and national officials in this FAQ.