Hundreds of public schools in six Bay Area counties, including in Santa Clara County, will remain closed through May 1, county health officers and superintendents of schools have decided.
Palo Alto schools had been set to reopen after spring break in April, though that seemed increasingly unlikely as coronavirus cases continued to rise and Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated last week that campuses wouldn't likely reopen this academic year.
The new decision, which is not an official order from the county health departments but was agreed to by each county superintendent, affects schools in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Alameda counties as well as the San Francisco Unified School District.
"The well-being of our students, families and communities is our primary concern. We will continue to take all necessary steps to prepare schools for reopening," said Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools. "Meanwhile, it is absolutely crucial that we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19, by adhering to the shelter-in-place orders and continuing to support learning at home."
San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee said that "working together to address a virus that respects no boundaries is the right approach."
Across the six counties, school facilities can remain open to staff "for the purposes of performing tasks deemed essential by the school district and county offices of education," the announcement reads. "Education will continue through flexible learning, meals will continue to be provided and, where possible, childcare may be arranged."
In Palo Alto Unified, plans were already underway to expand the district's distance learning in the event of a longer closure. Students and families will receive an update this Friday on educational offerings for after spring break, Superintendent Don Austin said.
Despite the new May 1 timeline, it will be "increasingly challenging," Austin said, for campuses to reopen at all this school year.
"We'd be down to a few weeks left before the scheduled end of school," he told the Weekly Wednesday. "Reopening will be much more difficult than closing."
Palo Alto schools move to credit/no credit grading system
On Wednesday afternoon, Palo Alto Unified announced that all middle and high school students will temporarily move to a credit/no credit grading system for this semester. Students will accumulate credits without positively or negatively impacting their grade point averages — of particular concern for college-bound seniors and juniors in Palo Alto.
"It does not negatively impact in any way our college-bound students and definitely protects students who are having a hard time accessing material, either through disability or devices," Austin said in an interview.
"It's going to lower the temperature" around grades during the school closures, he added.
Online schoolwork that has been provided so far to students during the closures has been optional and not been graded.
In a message to students and families, Austin said that "universities across the country have made it clear that students will not be penalized for missing traditional standardized tests or for posting credit/no credit transcripts for this semester."
Schools will be able to explain in students' official "School Profiles" to colleges and universities that this decision was made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, he wrote.
Harvard University, as one example, said that pass/fail grades will not disadvantage applicants in a recent message to high school juniors. Students who cannot submit Advanced Placement exams or SAT subject tests due to cancellations will also not be disadvantaged, Harvard said.
Palo Alto Unified's grading decision was made with input from principals, instructional leads, district administrators and in consultation with university admissions officials and Santa Clara County superintendents, Austin said.
Stanford University's Faculty Senate also decided this week -- via video conference, for the first time -- that all courses will be graded satisfactory/no credit for spring quarter, except for those offered by the Graduate School of Business, School of Law and the School of Medicine MD program (unless the schools opt in).
The decision was spurred by "the realization that in this extraordinary moment we find ourselves in, students are going to be doing their work in an environment that is going to be quite different for each of them, and for some populations it's going to be quite hard to navigate," said Sarah Church, team leader of Stanford's Academic Continuity Group and physics professor.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.