Throughout the spring, parents of special-education students at Palo Alto Unified voiced concern about their children's experience with distance learning, difficulty accessing legally required support services while schools are closed and a lack of communication about the district's plans for the fall.
The school board will hear an update on special education on Tuesday, including the district's hope that the state relaxes its reopening mandates to allow small groups of students to return to campuses for in-person learning.
Palo Alto Unified will start the school year on Aug. 17 fully online and can only resume in-person instruction when Santa Clara County has been off the state's monitoring list for two weeks.
Starting this month, special education staff will connect with students synchronous on a daily basis, according to a staff presentation. Instructional aides will support students during small group work and also may meet virtually with students one-on-one. Students in academic support classes will meet with special education teachers "as indicated" on their individualized education plans.
Some specialized services will be provided through teletherapy, the presentation states. Education specialists will give weekly updates on students' progress to their families.
The district briefly offered an in-person program for students with disabilities this summer before Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement about reopening requirements shut it down. Parents of participating children said they had been desperate for meaningful, in-person support and instruction.
Palo Alto Unified also is looking into whether PAUSD+, a new program the district came up with during the closures to provide in-person support to at-risk and struggling students, could open under guidance that applies to individual service providers, such as child care centers and after-school programs, rather than schools.
The program would offer a quiet place to work, internet access, adult supervision, tutoring and mental health check-ins for a small group of targeted students.
"The disruption of in-person learning and family conditions resulting from the pandemic can impact already existing disparities in educational outcomes as well as in the personal lives of students and families," a staff report notes about the driving force for PAUSD+.
The district does plan to offer a virtual version of the support program, including online tutoring and one-on-one support from trained coaches.
The school board also will consider results from a survey that asked whether elementary school parents wanted to commit now to a full year of distance learning. Five percent of elementary students, or 243 students, will be attending school remotely for the entire year.
In other business, the board will discuss tentative agreements with the district's teachers and classified employees unions on working conditions for the new school year.
The virtual meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. View the full agenda here. 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.