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.