News

School board to hear update on reopening plans for the fall

Members also set to approve 2020-21 budget

The empty Henry M. Gunn High School campus in Palo Alto on April 3. On June 23, the Palo Alto school board will discuss the school district's latest thinking on what school might look like this fall. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

With the start of the new school year less than two months away, the Palo Alto Unified School District is still working through the complexities of how to safely reopen its campuses while it waits for more concrete guidance from public health leaders.

The school board will discuss on Tuesday the district's latest thinking on what school might look like this fall, with the caveat that it expects the Santa Clara County Public Health Department to soon issue its guidelines for reopening schools. The district also is still in negotiations with its teachers union about the new school year.

Superintendent Don Austin has said previously that he expects the county's guidance to be more restrictive — and thus more consequential for Palo Alto Unified — than a document the state issued earlier this month.

The district is still planning for a hybrid model that combines in-person and online instruction for the secondary schools and a return to daily, face-to-face learning for elementary school students. New documents coming to the board on Tuesday shed more light on the potential plans at each level.

"We are setting a high value on the teacher and student connection," Austin said at a special board meeting last week. "We also think that there is importance around returning to some form of normalcy and normalcy does not look like what we're doing right now."

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The district anticipates preschoolers could attend Greendell School in person four mornings a week, according to a report. If enrollment increases, the district might add an afternoon session.

Students in transitional kindergarten classes could be split into two groups with one half attending school in the morning for two-and-a-half hours and the other half attending mid-day, four days a week.

Kindergarten students and students in the Young Fives program would start the year attending either a three-hour morning or afternoon session. On Oct. 12, all students would shift to a full school day, as is typical.

For all of the district's youngest students — preschoolers through kindergarten — students will not sit at individual desks but may have assigned spots at tables and on rugs.

First- through fifth-graders, meanwhile, would start school in August on a modified schedule for the first week "to build positive social-distancing skills and routines, stamina for being back in the school setting with social distancing, learn the necessary procedures and routines, and re-engage with friends and faculty," the report reads. "The modified week will also allow school staff the time to meet at the end of each day to review how new procedures are working and determine those that need some adjustments for the next day."

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In classrooms, they will be seated in pairs, facing forward, with panels in between students sitting adjacent to one another. Teachers will wear face shields and masks.

Recess and lunch would be staggered to decrease the number of students on the playground at one time. Time will be built into the daily schedule for health practices like frequent hand-washing. Socially distance physical education classes will take place outside with limited equipment, if used at all.

Fifth-grade music instruction, a wind and string program, will be taught outside as much as possible. The schools are modifying the curriculum to avoid blowing and playing wind instruments in closed spaces.

For elementary students whose parents prefer distance learning in the fall, they would have a set daily schedule with blocks for reading, music, math, science and independent work. Three district distance learning teachers will record all K-5 science and social studies asynchronous lessons for students to access at home. They will keep "movement journals" instead of in-person PE classes and will use Zoom to participate in music lessons.

Every student, whether in school and at home, will receive a monthly set of tools for art lessons.

The schools will create block schedules to allow students at home to sign on for instruction, which could also be used "should it become necessary to pivot to distance learning in the case of a renewed shelter in place order from the County Health Department," the report states.

For middle and high schoolers, the district still anticipates splitting schools into two groups that alternate going to campus two days a week and learn from home the other days. They will have access to a quiet place to work with internet, supervision and support services.

The district also plans to open "PAUSD+," an in-person support center for middle and high school students who are struggling academically and/or those who face unique challenges, such as safety concerns or limited internet access at home. The program will serve 50 to 60 middle and high school students per day depending on how much space is available. Students who are accepted into the program will attend PAUSD+ two times per week on the days that they are not attending regular school.

Sanitizing, social distancing, capacity limits, proper airflow and other safety precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are part of the district's plans at all levels.

The district is planning to send out registration forms soon, which will help the district determine how many families plan to return for in-person instruction or want to continue with distance learning in the fall.

In other business Tuesday, the board is set to approve the 2020-21 budget. Board members will consider setting aside $355,000 from the Strong Schools Bond reserve to upgrade two classroom wings at Cubberley Community Center to prepare them for use by the start of the new school year in August.

The virtual meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast on Cable TV Channel 28 and midpenmedia.org. Those wishing to participate by Zoom can do so by going to pausd.zoom.us/j/97888498129 or dialing 669-900-6833 and using Meeting ID: 949 9734 6242. View the full agenda here.

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School board to hear update on reopening plans for the fall

Members also set to approve 2020-21 budget

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 23, 2020, 9:37 am

With the start of the new school year less than two months away, the Palo Alto Unified School District is still working through the complexities of how to safely reopen its campuses while it waits for more concrete guidance from public health leaders.

The school board will discuss on Tuesday the district's latest thinking on what school might look like this fall, with the caveat that it expects the Santa Clara County Public Health Department to soon issue its guidelines for reopening schools. The district also is still in negotiations with its teachers union about the new school year.

Superintendent Don Austin has said previously that he expects the county's guidance to be more restrictive — and thus more consequential for Palo Alto Unified — than a document the state issued earlier this month.

The district is still planning for a hybrid model that combines in-person and online instruction for the secondary schools and a return to daily, face-to-face learning for elementary school students. New documents coming to the board on Tuesday shed more light on the potential plans at each level.

"We are setting a high value on the teacher and student connection," Austin said at a special board meeting last week. "We also think that there is importance around returning to some form of normalcy and normalcy does not look like what we're doing right now."

The district anticipates preschoolers could attend Greendell School in person four mornings a week, according to a report. If enrollment increases, the district might add an afternoon session.

Students in transitional kindergarten classes could be split into two groups with one half attending school in the morning for two-and-a-half hours and the other half attending mid-day, four days a week.

Kindergarten students and students in the Young Fives program would start the year attending either a three-hour morning or afternoon session. On Oct. 12, all students would shift to a full school day, as is typical.

For all of the district's youngest students — preschoolers through kindergarten — students will not sit at individual desks but may have assigned spots at tables and on rugs.

First- through fifth-graders, meanwhile, would start school in August on a modified schedule for the first week "to build positive social-distancing skills and routines, stamina for being back in the school setting with social distancing, learn the necessary procedures and routines, and re-engage with friends and faculty," the report reads. "The modified week will also allow school staff the time to meet at the end of each day to review how new procedures are working and determine those that need some adjustments for the next day."

In classrooms, they will be seated in pairs, facing forward, with panels in between students sitting adjacent to one another. Teachers will wear face shields and masks.

Recess and lunch would be staggered to decrease the number of students on the playground at one time. Time will be built into the daily schedule for health practices like frequent hand-washing. Socially distance physical education classes will take place outside with limited equipment, if used at all.

Fifth-grade music instruction, a wind and string program, will be taught outside as much as possible. The schools are modifying the curriculum to avoid blowing and playing wind instruments in closed spaces.

For elementary students whose parents prefer distance learning in the fall, they would have a set daily schedule with blocks for reading, music, math, science and independent work. Three district distance learning teachers will record all K-5 science and social studies asynchronous lessons for students to access at home. They will keep "movement journals" instead of in-person PE classes and will use Zoom to participate in music lessons.

Every student, whether in school and at home, will receive a monthly set of tools for art lessons.

The schools will create block schedules to allow students at home to sign on for instruction, which could also be used "should it become necessary to pivot to distance learning in the case of a renewed shelter in place order from the County Health Department," the report states.

For middle and high schoolers, the district still anticipates splitting schools into two groups that alternate going to campus two days a week and learn from home the other days. They will have access to a quiet place to work with internet, supervision and support services.

The district also plans to open "PAUSD+," an in-person support center for middle and high school students who are struggling academically and/or those who face unique challenges, such as safety concerns or limited internet access at home. The program will serve 50 to 60 middle and high school students per day depending on how much space is available. Students who are accepted into the program will attend PAUSD+ two times per week on the days that they are not attending regular school.

Sanitizing, social distancing, capacity limits, proper airflow and other safety precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are part of the district's plans at all levels.

The district is planning to send out registration forms soon, which will help the district determine how many families plan to return for in-person instruction or want to continue with distance learning in the fall.

In other business Tuesday, the board is set to approve the 2020-21 budget. Board members will consider setting aside $355,000 from the Strong Schools Bond reserve to upgrade two classroom wings at Cubberley Community Center to prepare them for use by the start of the new school year in August.

The virtual meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast on Cable TV Channel 28 and midpenmedia.org. Those wishing to participate by Zoom can do so by going to pausd.zoom.us/j/97888498129 or dialing 669-900-6833 and using Meeting ID: 949 9734 6242. View the full agenda here.

Comments

Get your facts straight
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 23, 2020 at 10:54 am
Get your facts straight, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 23, 2020 at 10:54 am
26 people like this

Interesting that the elementary school students will get recorded lectures, but not middle or high schoolers. Also interesting that for the days at home, middle and high schoolers do not get a structured schedule. Note the following article from NYTimes Web Link:

"The two most authoritative reviews of the research to date, examining the results of nearly 300 studies, come to a similar conclusion. Students tend to learn less efficiently than usual in online courses, as a rule, and depending on the course. But if they have a facilitator or mentor on hand, someone to help with the technology and focus their attention — an approach sometimes called blended learning — they perform about as well in many virtual classes, and sometimes better.

One state that has applied this approach broadly, for nearly two decades, is Michigan. A state-supported nonprofit institute called Michigan Virtual offers scores of online courses, in languages, the sciences, history and professional development. It also offers 23 virtual advanced placement (A.P.) courses, for college credit.

“We find that if students have support and a schedule — they do the lesson every weekday at 9 a.m., for instance — they tend to do better than just tuning in here and there,” said Joe Freidhoff, vice president of Michigan Virtual. “The mantra of online learning is, ‘Your own time, your own pace, your own path.’ In fact, each of these factors matter greatly, and some structure seems to help.”


Sally
Downtown North
on Jun 23, 2020 at 1:02 pm
Sally, Downtown North
on Jun 23, 2020 at 1:02 pm
36 people like this

For middle and high schoolers, 2 days per week is not sufficient. Especially if the other 3 days look anything like the distance learning they had at the end of last year.

We could improve this by giving structure (time, zoom, recordings) to the other days. Additionally, there is no need to have Friday wasted every week. Let the two cohorts alternate which of them gets to be "in-person" on each Friday.


Inadequate
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2020 at 1:23 pm
Inadequate, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2020 at 1:23 pm
22 people like this

The plan for high school and middle school is inadequate. There is one period per week of in-class instruction per class instead of three and students are largely on their own for online learning with just 30 minutes per week of synchronous learning per class. Time with a live teacher is less than half of normal. PAUSD should not be expecting kids this age to motivate or teach themselves.


Former Gunn mom
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2020 at 1:39 pm
Former Gunn mom, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2020 at 1:39 pm
7 people like this

I agree with Sally. PAUSD, please consider these good ideas.


Matt
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2020 at 2:28 pm
Matt, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2020 at 2:28 pm
15 people like this

I don't have a problem w/ middle and high schoolers doing 3 days a week at home. Under this plan the kids will inevitably fall behind peers who happen to reside in districts that provide live online learning in a structured, scheduled format. Can anyone explain why PAUSD can't provide scheduled live online teaching for kids on days they are at home?


Inadequate
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2020 at 2:47 pm
Inadequate, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2020 at 2:47 pm
5 people like this

I am guessing it's because the teachers have a full schedule of in-class teaching because the classes are half their normal size. The only ways to also have live teaching for the online students is to have extra teachers for the online classes or to broadcast the existing classes live to the online students and count that as a class. But there are a lot of classes where effective online curriculum should be different from a broadcast of a class. I would like for PAUSD should treat different types of classes differently. For example, perhaps many required classes can be all online and broadcast live. Math or English or History. But some electives should be all or mostly in-class (Industrial Tech or Drama or Music). A class like Science could be a mix.


DavidZ
Palo Alto High School
on Jun 23, 2020 at 5:07 pm
DavidZ, Palo Alto High School
on Jun 23, 2020 at 5:07 pm
19 people like this

The rate of new infections and hospitalizations is increasing quickly in California, many other states, and even in Santa Clara County due to lack of social distancing and lack of face coverings in public places. In 2 months when the school year is scheduled to start, things will likely look much worse than today. Any decision the school board makes now must take into consideration the fact that with exponential growth in new infections, the healthcare system may be overwhelmed by September.

At that point it will be too late to plan an entirely online, remote education system. The prudent move is to make the online plan now and then if things turn around and we are able to slow infection or some treatment becomes available to resume in person attendance by the students and staff.

It is hard to accept the possibility that in a few weeks the health care system will be overrun with COVID-19 patients as things seem manageable right now, at this moment. Let's not repeat the same mistake now that we did at the school board meeting back in March where they decided not to close the school only to reverse the decision the next day.


Person up!
Juana Briones School
on Jun 23, 2020 at 8:35 pm
Person up!, Juana Briones School
on Jun 23, 2020 at 8:35 pm
11 people like this

What was with the teachers, Tom and Jocelyn, who were complaining at tonight’s board meeting about having to teach a full class of more than 12 students? It came off as whiny. We are all in this together, we are all facing exposure from shopping, schooling, and working. The new normal is masks, shields, hand washing, and distancing as best as can be managed.


Parent
Midtown
on Jun 23, 2020 at 9:18 pm
Parent, Midtown
on Jun 23, 2020 at 9:18 pm
Like this comment

Did anyone attend the board meeting and get the link to the letter the Palo Verde teachers talked about?


Paly Teacher
Palo Alto High School
on Jun 23, 2020 at 9:34 pm
Paly Teacher, Palo Alto High School
on Jun 23, 2020 at 9:34 pm
4 people like this

@Matt: Inadequate is correct. If I'm teaching my period 3B students in person on Wednesday, I can't provide live instruction to my period 3A kids.

@Parent: Here's the link: bit.ly/pvresponse


Covid-19 ready
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 23, 2020 at 10:08 pm
Covid-19 ready, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 23, 2020 at 10:08 pm
5 people like this

It would be great if the District were explicit about its goals. Then we could know where this is going.

1. Is the goal 1 year of learning for every student?
2. Is the goal to allow students to learn and teachers to teach regardless of health status?
3. Is the goal high quality eduction?
4. Is the goal student engagement?
5. Is the goal community safety?

Many in the community repeatedly have expressed concern to support home learners. The community wants to be safe. We have 66K or so people living in Palo Alto. Palo Alto students and their families must comprise at least 30% of the Palo Alto population (12K students and possibly 8K adult/household members if not more). Shouldn't our schools be required by Santa Clara Department of Health to put forward only safe plans, with a commitment to contact trace, isolate, and quarantine as needed?

Finally, at least for high school, why can't our district follow the model of the community colleges, CSUs and UCs. They are offering live or recorded instruction, in person only for classes that require live interaction such as labs, dance, and clinicals. We have few of these classes at Paly and Gunn.


Hal
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 23, 2020 at 10:28 pm
Hal, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 23, 2020 at 10:28 pm
4 people like this

Hybrid model is a very great idea on paper. Realistically, it's a model that needs much more time to become successful. District should focus on a distance learning model only. Waste of limited money buying all the materials needed to open partial school that will more than likely be shut down anyway.


D
Midtown
on Jun 23, 2020 at 11:03 pm
D, Midtown
on Jun 23, 2020 at 11:03 pm
5 people like this

I want REAL learning for my child, not "virtual" learning ("distance" learning ... a.k.a. sorry you are on your own!). Once you fall behind the learning curve, its hard to catch up. Already lost 2 months of learning the past school year, can't afford to miss another full year while other students around the country and world are back in school. If its to be only online "distance-learning" in the fall, we want to know that as soon as possible so that our family can possibly make alternate school plans. The thought of suffering through more hastily thrown together emergency "distance" learning makes other options look more appealing

-> private school
-> home school / self-study using better developed online options : Khan Academy, Coursera, Harvard/MIT free courses, etc. Lets be real here: It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare good online learning materials , teaching and evaluation practices. Some of the course development is invariably trial-and-error ... do you want your children participating in the experiment? Well maybe if it doesn't work out they can just repeat junior year of high school. Even the best teachers can't realistically be expected to develop from scratch quality online courses in < 2 months during summer break.... its not as simple as simply video taping lectures.


Messifan
Ventura
on Jun 24, 2020 at 6:58 am
Messifan, Ventura
on Jun 24, 2020 at 6:58 am
2 people like this

I can't handle wearing a mask for more than 15 minutes, and neither can my children. I can't imagine what the school year will be like if they are forced to wear them. I wish we would go to a model of regular activities for those whose parents approve, and staying home for those who are scared. This article is Wired argues that many school safety measures are theater: Web Link


Sports first
Evergreen Park
on Jun 24, 2020 at 8:56 am
Sports first, Evergreen Park
on Jun 24, 2020 at 8:56 am
8 people like this

What's funny/sad/interesting is that the schools are allowing athletes back to workout (under CIF provided guidelines). However, there've been no discussions by the school board as to the health and safety of the athletes, as far as I know. They pretty much left it up to the AD's and coaches to figure out how to carry out the guidelines.

Given that approximately 50% of the students at Paly are athletes, shouldn't the district show a little more interest in this experiment?

Many colleges and professional sports have recently returned to activities and the virus cases have spiked for many of them. Seems as though the district is turning a blind eye to a very big potential issue.


Forest
Mayfield
on Jun 24, 2020 at 12:08 pm
Forest, Mayfield
on Jun 24, 2020 at 12:08 pm
2 people like this

I agree with Sally and Get your facts straight as well as similarly worded opinions--this is all not working, can we start following some valid science in education? Yes, "PAUSD, please consider these good ideas."


Gena
another community
on Jun 24, 2020 at 4:34 pm
Gena, another community
on Jun 24, 2020 at 4:34 pm
8 people like this

I think it is important to not let your politics get in the way of keeping your child safe. Schools would be able to put on a good distance learning program in the Fall if only they were given the OK to do so. Instead, a lot of valuable time and energy are being wasted trying to decide what to do in the 'what if' situations. Plan on doing the distance learning. No one is going to get sick or get anyone else sick by doing distance learning. The colleges have been doing distance learning courses for years and they are quality degree level classes. The school district can do high level distance learning too. They just need the time to put it together. I believe they can do it by Fall, but, we have to give them the OK now! Forget all this hybrid stuff. It is only a way to try and please everybody but it won't get the job done. Tell the district to move ahead and create Distance Learning that will teach our kids what they need to know.


Resident
Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 1:53 am
Resident, Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 1:53 am
11 people like this

Remember which board members supported Dr. Austin and how Dr. Austin helmed the ship as we navigated these waters. Then look over and see if students on the other ships fared better. Vote accordingly in the next election.

Dr. Austin has sat back and really tried not to take ownership of the planning of the closure of schools. At some point, parents are going to leave PAUSD and go to neighboring cities where their superintendent is manning the helm and guiding the ship without losing students (students falling dramatically behind other neighborhood cities).


SL
Charleston Meadows
on Jun 25, 2020 at 1:55 pm
SL, Charleston Meadows
on Jun 25, 2020 at 1:55 pm
7 people like this

Many school districts around the Bay Area while still considering various models to reopen the schools safely in the fall to all students, teachers and their families, are giving priority to improving their Distance Learning model and how to make curriculum and materials accessible to all and teach with fidelity, with trainings during this summer. PAUSD could work on something similar and have a solid plan. I really do not understand why PAUSD would think about reopening elementary in person and secondary in hybrid model. Waste of time, money, extra planning, effort and execution and we never know we may have to revert back to school closures again during flu season and when Covid cases are on the rise.
Please use man power, finances and technology wisely at this time and offer safe education. Train on providing quality online education, synchronous teacher student times and keep our community safe and reopen in person only when situation is stable. Do not let parents choose between having their children stay safe and learn from home and receive education in person. We all understand how important social emotional health is important to our students during these times. But given the fact about limited medical and emergency resources that we have if cases are on the rise, we have to make a wise choice in the model for reopening.


Noel
Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2020 at 4:18 pm
Noel, Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2020 at 4:18 pm
6 people like this

What about the significant numbers of our teachers and staff who are at serious risk if they contract COVID19? COVID19 doesn't care what any of us want. It will rip through our schools like a firestorm when they reopen, most especially the primary schools given that kids under age 12 are usually asymptomatic. 90+% of the kids probably won't suffer much from COVID19 but the 700+ teachers and 2-300 staff are at risk and the kids will bring it home to their parents.


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