LOS ANGELES — Supply carts at school look different this year. Cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, gloves and thermometers stack shelves on what used to be a library cart. 

"Do you see where it says 'action team?'" Principal Victor Sanchez asked as he wheeled one of the school's four converted carts through the front door. "They are our PPE Action Team carts. Woohoo!" 

What You Need To Know

  • LAUSD provides free COVID-19 testing for all students and staff

  • When a positive case is identified, the school calls the individual with instructions for isolating

  • Students considered close contacts also are called and given instructions to quarantine

  • Information about current COVID-19 cases in the LAUSD community can be found at achieve.lausd.net/districtcovidreport

Sanchez has an infectious energy and jovial spirit. As principal of the Dr. Theodore T. Alexander Science Center School, he wears a white lab coat as he moves through the halls with purpose, rarely sitting still. 

The school has several precautions, including a daily screening, but he knows he can't fully prevent COVID-19 from making its way onto campus. What he can do is make sure the school has a response plan.

"It's been…I wouldn't say a challenge but it has been a lot of work," he said.

It starts in a row of white tents, where each week, more than 500 students plus staff are tested for COVID-19. Two days later, hours before school starts, Sanchez is up, checking the dashboard for results. Alexander Science Center School has had roughly eight to 12 positive cases this year. 

What happens next happens fast.

"We need to act quickly before the kids come," Sanchez said, describing the moment he finds out about a positive case.

The school has a COVID Action Team that includes nurses, administration and custodians. But it's the principal who acts first, personally informing the student's family by phone.

"When I make the phone call, I'm like 'OK, let's make it happen!'" he explained. "Because if I can save them a trip from coming to school and them staying at home, then that's my win/win."

Next, he works with staff to identify anyone else who may have been exposed and notifies those families. Again, the goal is to do this before those kids reach campus, but if the staff doesn't catch them in time, those testing tents become the quarantine area.

"Based on our contact tracing, we had to pull some kids today," Sanchez said on Sept. 10. "And so this is where we pulled them within the first 30 minutes of school."

The next phase of the plan sees someone from the district following up with families to give them further instructions about what to look for and how long to quarantine. According to the dashboard, the first full week of September, LAUSD had 1,500 active COVID-19 cases among students and staff – although they say none of them were from school-based transmissions.

Sanchez credits the Science Center School community for that. He said his staff and the parents work together to run the protocols efficiently and keep everyone as healthy as possible.

"Teachers teach!" Sanchez said enthusiastically. "And when they teach the students how to put on masks, and when parents teach them at home, it works out perfectly."

No one wants a phone call from the principal's office, especially now – knowing what it may mean – but he said not one family has pushed back when told their child needs to quarantine for their sake and the health of the student body.

"I think our families district-wide understand that we're under a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day we are here to keep everybody safe," he explained.