Masks, face shields and testing; more custodians and nurses; and guaranteed pay for any teachers who are exposed to the coronavirus and must quarantine are among requests Palo Alto Unified's teachers union is working to negotiate with the school district for the next academic year.
The district released its first proposal and a counterproposal from the Palo Alto Educators Association on working conditions for this fall, assuming secondary schools reopen with a mix of in-person and online instruction. The provisions, while still under negotiation, also paint a picture of what school might look like in the fall for middle and high school teachers and students. (Planning for the elementary schools is happening separately, with the district working to prioritize more in-person attendance as possible for younger children.)
Under the proposed memorandum of understanding, students at the middle and high schools would be divided into two groups that attend school in person on alternating days — one group on Mondays and Thursdays and the other on Tuesdays and Fridays — and learn from home the other days. In-person classes should be capped at 12 students or fewer, the union has asked.
Wednesdays would be a "blended teacher day" to give teachers time to collaborate, hold office hours, work on lesson planning and to otherwise prepare for the blended learning model. The union asked that teachers be able to use this day at their own "discretion," and that "for deep cleaning and childcare purposes" teachers can also work from home on Wednesdays. Child care should be provided to any staff member who needs it, the union proposed.
Some students with special needs would be allowed to go to school and receive direct instruction five days per week, the proposed memorandum states. The union has proposed that special education teachers also receive their full prep time and not be responsible for distance learning if they have students in person five days a week.
"Teachers are expected to deliver content to students through a variety of methods during distance learning days to extend learning beyond face-to-face interactions," the district's proposal states. "Recognizing the range of students in grades 6-12 and the diversity of content areas, teachers will make a reasonable effort to replicate the amount of time allocated to lessons in a way that covers essential content during non-traditional bell schedules."
The teachers union has asked that the district delay the start of school in August by three days and use that time for staff development, with training on topics including blended learning, flipped classrooms, Schoology and Google Classrooms. Back-to-school nights should be canceled due to restrictions on group gatherings, the union proposed, and parent-teacher conferences shouldn't be mandatory unless teachers are compensated for them.
The union is also focusing on protecting teachers' health and safety as they return to work in person. The union is asking the district to provide personal protective equipment, including masks, disposable gloves, face shields, smocks to wear over their clothes, hand sanitizer, hand-washing stations, plexiglass shields or three-sided cubbies for work that requires people sitting closer together, as well as testing for the coronavirus or antibodies. Safety protocols should be created for how students line up, enter and exit the classrooms; lining up for bathrooms; and what to do if students don't follow required procedures. The schools should be staffed with additional custodians and nurses, the union has proposed.
Teachers who are considered high risk for the coronavirus or have at-risk family members and have a doctor's note should be given work from home assignments, such as overseeing distance learning for students who do not return to school physically, the union's counterproposal states.
The union has asked that any teachers who are exposed to the coronavirus and required to be quarantined or who self-quarantine will continue to be paid and not have any days taken from their sick, personal or extended illness leave.
The memorandum notes that "more issues, known and unknown at this time, remain to be addressed regarding the safety of students and staff as schools reopen," including which students do or do not attend school every day and how interactions in areas like bathrooms and playgrounds will be monitored.
If public health restrictions allow the middle and high schools to resume normal face-to-face instruction five days a week, the schools will automatically revert to their traditional schedules.
The memorandum also proposes that the district and union develop and implement, if permitted at the time, a common bell schedule for all secondary schools for the 2021-22 school year.
The school district and teachers union began negotiations on May 20. They are scheduled to meet again on Friday, May 29, to consider counterproposals and continue negotiations.
The school board discussed Tuesday night a more detailed, draft plan for reopening schools in the fall, though much remains up in the air. The district is also awaiting new guidance from the state on reopening schools, set to be released on Wednesday.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.