When Palo Alto Unified middle and high schoolers log on for distance learning in the new academic year, they won't have to do so until 9 a.m. or later.
The district, at the direction of school board members, has shifted the secondary school day to a later start. Proposed bell schedules would have sixth- through 12th-graders start classes at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, 9:40 a.m. on Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. on Monday.
The two high schools previously started class at 8:20 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. and the three middle schools, 8:10 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.
The distance learning plan also means all schools will be using a common bell schedule.
Earlier this month, board members asked district staff to create a plan to start the secondary school day after 9 a.m.
"We know that later start times are important for students and this situation that we're in, while it has lots of downsides, is an opportunity for us to move our start times later, not just during the period of school closures when we're not physically on campus but after that as well," board member Ken Dauber said at a July 3 special meeting.
In a tweet, Superintendent Don Austin said he has "some mixed feelings" about the later start times. When asked, he said that he supports trying the late start but is concerned about how it could impact students who need to travel for events in the afternoon, such as sports, when schools reopen.
"We will test our assumptions," Austin said.
In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that requires California school districts to implement schedules within three years that ring the first-period bell no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for high schools and 8 a.m. for middle schools.
Following Newsom's Friday announcement that schools in counties being monitored by the state cannot physically reopen, Palo Alto Unified is planning to have all students begin school virtually. Sixth graders will no longer be able to be on campuses once a week, as was proposed. Grades will be assigned and attendance will be taken daily.
Union negotiations continue
With the new school year less than a month away, the district continues to negotiate COVID-19 working conditions with its teachers union, which before Newsom's announcement was lobbying against reopening schools in person. According to proposals and counterproposals from July 21, posted to the district website, the union is now asking that all students learn virtually until January 2021.
The union has also asked that teachers not be required to be on campus during distance learning and that if schools reopen, that the district allocate specific teachers to teach children whose parents opt to continue for fully online instruction.
The union proposed that by Oct. 1, the district form workgroups at the elementary, middle and high school levels to "work out the details of in-person reopening." The union is also requesting that staff are given, if possible, two weeks notice or at least one week to prepare for any change to the district's instructional model.
The district's latest counterproposals would require all teachers to provide daily synchronous instruction and to be available throughout the school day as they would be in person. The proposals also suggest that some students, such as at-risk or special education students, will be able to attend school in person in the fall.
Under sick leave provisions, the district has proposed that any teachers who have been exposed to the coronavirus and are required to quarantine continue to be paid and not lose any sick or extended leave time — "as long as they are able to provide distance learning during that time period."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.