Palo Alto Unified is moving forward with a plan to allow sixth graders to return to in-person learning in the first week of March, the district announced on Friday.
The reopening of sixth grade in particular is now permissible under new state guidelines that consider sixth grade as attached to elementary schools rather than secondary schools, even if they typically attend school with seventh and eighth graders, as in Palo Alto. The state allows schools to resume face-to-face instruction for sixth grade once their county COVID-19 rates are less than 25 per 100,000 people for five consecutive days, which is now the case in Santa Clara County.
This comes as a welcome development for parents and students eager to return to classrooms this school year, though it remains to be seen whether older students in middle and high schools will be able to do so. Superintendent Don Austin cautioned recently that the path to secondary schools reopening this academic year, particularly the high schools, seems unlikely.
The school board has already approved a reopening plan for hybrid learning at the middle schools, which was also negotiated with the teachers union. The district plans to survey families again this week on whether they want to choose the hybrid model or stick with distance learning. If more families request in-person learning than the schools can accommodate, students will get spots through a lottery system.
Students will be in stable cohorts, alternating which periods they attend school in person. For example, half of the students could be attending first and second periods in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then third and fourth periods at home.
The district plans to designate March 1 as an online "skinny day," in which classes in all periods will meet, for reopening and then resume in-person instruction on March 2, Austin said.
There may be opportunities for seventh and eighth grade students to come to campuses for small group activities this spring, and the district is looking for employees to staff those groups.
The high schools, meanwhile, opened 12 new in-person cohorts last week and also resumed athletic conditioning in small, stable cohorts.
The school board is holding a virtual study session this Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 4:30 p.m. to discuss reopening plans, among other items. View the agenda here.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.