News

Superintendent: End-of-year events at the high schools? Patience, please

While Palo Alto parents lobby for prom, district leader Don Austin says principals' meeting will be held this Thursday to discuss

From left, Gunn High School seniors Wendy Sakuma, Grace Liu, Manya Zhao and Christine Zang decided to celebrate their canceled prom by dressing up for a photo in the hills above Palo Alto on April 18, 2020. Courtesy Paul Sakuma.

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin is asking for patience from parents who've been lobbying for the district to organize a prom this spring and citing other districts that have already announced their events.

Austin said at Tuesday's board meeting that secondary school principals have expressed confusion recently on what the current COVID-19 guidelines allow for larger in-person school events, and that some "volunteers" have jumped the gun on plans that are still restricted by public health mandates.

In response, Austin sent a letter Tuesday to secondary staff and families stating there will be a pause in planning as district leaders meet with principals this Thursday to resume discussions on large in-person events.

With less than two months left of the spring semester, Austin recently confirmed that in-person graduations will be brought back for the departing 2021 classes. But for the district parents who are pushing for the return of more end-of-year activities like prom, the news did little to placate their frustrations.

One group of parents submitted a letter recently to the district stating if the Associated Student Bodies of the two high schools are unable to or not interested in coordinating a prom, "there are many Palo Alto class of 2021 parents that are willing to coordinate," with a hashtag signed at the bottom: #Letthemprom.

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Austin revealed his own quiet frustrations with the request as he shared current countywide stats on the limited number of vaccinated local residents and the capacity restrictions of outdoor gatherings.

"Outdoor gatherings are still capped at 50 individuals, so we're not sure where some of these activities are going to fit in. We have put all our attention into graduation, in person," he said.

Private events or conferences that include pre-purchased tickets or a defined guest list, which the state health department outlines as a few means that can reduce risk, have higher capacity limits. And those limits can also change depending on whether guests can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or full vaccination.

In the orange tier, where the county currently remains, outdoor gathering capacity increases from 50 people to 100 if the event uses any of the state-provided methods to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission. Guests capacity increases even further to 300 people if they're all tested negative or have completed vaccination. In the yellow tier, gatherings increase to 200 people and 400 under the same conditions

The superintendent also dismissed comparisons, from some community members, to other neighboring districts that have announced prom plans for the semester. In a call with an unnamed superintendent, Austin said that the other district's end-of-year event is hardly an actual prom.

"It's listed as prom, (but) it is not a prom," he said. "It's a bunch of tables out on a field with some activities."

Mountain View High School has advertised an in-person prom with tickets on sale, but the event will be restricted to seniors only, according to Ava Kopp, a senior and president of the school's Associated Student Body, who spoke with the Weekly's sister publication, the Mountain View Voice, for a separate story on the school's first day of reopening. An outdoor casino-themed night with games is planned, she said, but no dancing will be allowed.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Superintendent: End-of-year events at the high schools? Patience, please

While Palo Alto parents lobby for prom, district leader Don Austin says principals' meeting will be held this Thursday to discuss

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Apr 21, 2021, 9:12 am

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin is asking for patience from parents who've been lobbying for the district to organize a prom this spring and citing other districts that have already announced their events.

Austin said at Tuesday's board meeting that secondary school principals have expressed confusion recently on what the current COVID-19 guidelines allow for larger in-person school events, and that some "volunteers" have jumped the gun on plans that are still restricted by public health mandates.

In response, Austin sent a letter Tuesday to secondary staff and families stating there will be a pause in planning as district leaders meet with principals this Thursday to resume discussions on large in-person events.

With less than two months left of the spring semester, Austin recently confirmed that in-person graduations will be brought back for the departing 2021 classes. But for the district parents who are pushing for the return of more end-of-year activities like prom, the news did little to placate their frustrations.

One group of parents submitted a letter recently to the district stating if the Associated Student Bodies of the two high schools are unable to or not interested in coordinating a prom, "there are many Palo Alto class of 2021 parents that are willing to coordinate," with a hashtag signed at the bottom: #Letthemprom.

Austin revealed his own quiet frustrations with the request as he shared current countywide stats on the limited number of vaccinated local residents and the capacity restrictions of outdoor gatherings.

"Outdoor gatherings are still capped at 50 individuals, so we're not sure where some of these activities are going to fit in. We have put all our attention into graduation, in person," he said.

Private events or conferences that include pre-purchased tickets or a defined guest list, which the state health department outlines as a few means that can reduce risk, have higher capacity limits. And those limits can also change depending on whether guests can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or full vaccination.

In the orange tier, where the county currently remains, outdoor gathering capacity increases from 50 people to 100 if the event uses any of the state-provided methods to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission. Guests capacity increases even further to 300 people if they're all tested negative or have completed vaccination. In the yellow tier, gatherings increase to 200 people and 400 under the same conditions

The superintendent also dismissed comparisons, from some community members, to other neighboring districts that have announced prom plans for the semester. In a call with an unnamed superintendent, Austin said that the other district's end-of-year event is hardly an actual prom.

"It's listed as prom, (but) it is not a prom," he said. "It's a bunch of tables out on a field with some activities."

Mountain View High School has advertised an in-person prom with tickets on sale, but the event will be restricted to seniors only, according to Ava Kopp, a senior and president of the school's Associated Student Body, who spoke with the Weekly's sister publication, the Mountain View Voice, for a separate story on the school's first day of reopening. An outdoor casino-themed night with games is planned, she said, but no dancing will be allowed.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

Paly Parent
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 21, 2021 at 10:51 am
Paly Parent, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 10:51 am

Here's your fact check. Current guidelines are 100 with no testing, and 300 with proof of test at the current tier. Web Link

Yes, the ideas are spin-offs of "real prom" just like our current "hybrid" model is not "real school." Have a "promenade" in the parking lot, or progressive dinner (with carefully packaged food) or a stand-in-this-circle with-6'-diameter-and-dance gathering on the field or "drive-in" prom. Please put your innovation hat on. We are inspired on how other schools are finding safe, fun ways to celebrate their seniors.


dwdarby
Registered user
Duveneck School
on Apr 21, 2021 at 11:05 am
dwdarby, Duveneck School
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 11:05 am

PAUSD administration has been stalling on this decision for weeks while neighboring schools have been moving forward with planning safe events for seniors. CA State Health department currently allows up to 100 attendees/300 attendees with proof it negative test for outdoor events. Increases to 200/400 when SCC gets to the yellow tier. All seniors are over 16 and most will be fully vaccinated within the next few weeks. We need to work together to make events happen safely. PALY ASB leadership & staff needs to step up and start planning now.


Forever Name
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:03 pm
Forever Name, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:03 pm

#ForgottenClass2021

These high school students have been patient enough. The Class of 2021's life at Paly/Gunn is almost over. Let's show these students some respect for the experience they've had this year, their responsible/respectful/mature behavior, all they've given up for the good of the community: 100 percent online for 12 months (tragically, unnecessarily as we now know based on all the data and health experts), isolation, mental health impacts, missing ALL their friends and senior year activities. Let's celebrate them now that county rules permit! Those students who aren't comfortable attending don't have to come to school, but that doesn't mean they should have the right to dictate what other students are doing safely.

Paly/Gunn students are back together in class *inside* 4 days/week; athletes have been back competing for two months, including now competing against other counties and indoor sports (!); contact sports are in full swing! In the same county as Paly, across the street ... Stanford hosted *official* events two weeks ago (!) (see IG), a parade with hundreds of people standing next to each other shoulder to shoulder, and cheering loudly; they're hosting indoor sports events; and they’ve been hosting sporting events outside with hundreds of people shoulder to shoulder all weekend.

Enough with the stalling. Start planning senior activities, and not drive through events, PAUSD and ASB!


nope2
Registered user
Gunn High School
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:11 pm
nope2, Gunn High School
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:11 pm

Austin's statements on this are highly misleading. Wrong about number of people permitted at outdoor gatherings. Wrong about what the parents have proposed (parents aren't trying to host a traditional prom, just a fun outdoor event that complies with state guidelines that the kids can call a prom). And his attempt to portray parents as overreacting and "jumping the gun" because schools have not made any decisions is also wrong: Gunn admin cancelled an outdoor movie night that would have complied with all state guidelines. Hopefully the Palo Alto Online fact checks Austin's statements in the future.


Dawn Asken
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:20 pm
Dawn Asken, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:20 pm

Don Austin (and the current pausd school board) are not capable of putting students first. Thank you to the handful of people that are speaking/standing up for these kids (because no one at the district office is doing it). [Portion removed.]


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:36 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:36 pm

I can’t believe I am about to post something in agreement with Don Austin. It is not the place of the parents to jump in to plan a prom or other end of the year activities. This isn’t a question about coordination of an event. This is a question of safety and following the health restrictions of the county. So now we have overzealous parents jumping in and causing mass confusion under another silly hashtag of #letthemprom. This is similar to the #opentheschools nonsense which was another misguided parent cause during the worst disease outbreak in a century. If you think all of these school activities are safe just look at what is happening in Michigan schools currently. Please stop. Again, it is not your place to jump in and organize the end of the year school activities because YOU think it’s safe. No one asked you so stay in your lane. Also, even with vaccinations being made available to the general public this week, this does not ensure that everyone attending any future event in May or early June this school year will be fully vaccinated. People have to get appointments and the vaccines are a 2 dose/5 week regimen. Although I am not a big Austin fan by any means, if this was allowed by county health guidelines, I am sure he would be more than happy to plan something for the kids. Also, those so called proms in neighboring districts that these same parents are pointing to are not real prom events. So also stop with the “neighboring district comparisons.” To take it a step further, although I do feel bad for the kids, there should be no silly prom or other extra celebrations this school year. The graduation is enough. Everyone somehow thinks everything can be done so safely, and that the pandemic is almost over rather than erring on the side of caution. Is it really worth the chance of getting sick with Covid to participate in a meaningless “prom alternative?” The pandemic effects everyone and my fellow Paloaltonians are not exempt. #stopitpaparents


nope2
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:53 pm
nope2, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:53 pm

To "Voice of Palo Alto" commentator -- all activities parents groups have proposed have been 100% compliant with state and CDC guidelines--which is precisely why the parents are so frustrated with the district.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:59 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 12:59 pm

I think that there are many ways the graduating seniors can celebrate safely. The rites of passage are important to note in this society. The class of 2021 missed their Junior Prom, although the class of 2020 missed the same event, they still had the opportunity of a Junior Prom in 2019. For the class of 2021 their junior year was abruptly interrupted and they do deserve an opportunity to feel that the last year and a half of their high school career has some memories other than zooms, particularly for those students who are not sports orientated. They have missed out on music concerts, drama productions, for the arts orientated.

Some may say these are not important in the big picture. But when so much has been lost, any small method of salvaging something for them to look back on in years to come will be treasured.

It is hard to treasure a memory of a zoom filled senior year.


Maris Janes
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2021 at 1:23 pm
Maris Janes, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 1:23 pm

Many high school students feel they have robbed of their youth and once this pandemic is gone, it will be party down until the sun comes up when in college.


BP Parent
Registered user
Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2021 at 1:50 pm
BP Parent, Barron Park
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 1:50 pm

What about the class of 2020?
At least a nod from administration that they are history?


Clarification
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2021 at 3:54 pm
Clarification, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 3:54 pm

Sincere question: Every year Palo Alto parents plan and chaperone grad night unaffiliated from PAUSD... Can't this be the same? You don't need the school's permission or facilities to do that. Take over a park? Ask the PTA leadership to facilitate communication?


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2021 at 8:17 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 8:17 pm

Last night at the School Board meeting, students and parents made it clear that they are not impressed with Don Austin's (lack of) leadership, and for the first time that I can remember, the School Board appeared to be listening.

People who comment that graduations and proms are "trivial" do not recognize the grievous, immeasurable harm of this past 1.5 years on our youngest generation. These "unimportant" events are far more than simply "gatherings," but rather, they play cultural roles that mark rites of passage essential for teenagers to transition into adulthood.

The loss of these rites of passage -- everything from first day of high school, to middle school graduation, to cheering for the football team, to prom -- are losses that these youth never will have a chance to recover. They are memories that never had a chance to be created, that now are lost forever. In our American society, we never before raised a generation of young people who had no agreed-upon marker of transition from one life phase to another. What will happen when these teenagers graduate into the work world or college? Having been withheld every cultural and social milestone of previous generations, they will lack the cultural history that everyone else who commented here took for granted. You cannot possibly know how damaging this has been to our teens.

Last night at the Board Meeting, Austin repeated his same blatant lies: that PAUSD has been the "first" and "best" at everything; that PAUSD would be breaking the law by hosting Prom and/or a senior party (misstating regulations easily confirmed); that (unbelievably) streaming a classroom so that kids who have to quarantine due to coronavirus exposure -- is "illegal." His staff presented "statistical findings" that lacked any basic evidence of statistical accuracy. The few times that the reports did cite sample size, they revealed a District that is failing our children in every way.

We cannot tolerate Austin one day more. He must go.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2021 at 10:05 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 10:05 pm

@Rebecca
1. I agree with you that Austin needs to go.
2. Although he does just say things, Austin citing those statistical findings and stating things are illegal are likely due to him not wanting him or the district to take on any Covid liability for a prom, prom alternative, or graduation party.
3. Grad parties and proms seem trivial with regards to a backdrop of a global pandemic that has killed 3 million people so far. Also, reminder, there will be a graduation to produce some memories.
4. I feel sorry for these kids and these rites of passages are important, but everyone has been impacted by Covid in one way or another.
5. The teens won’t be lost because they weren’t able to celebrate cultural and social milestones. They will be ok. That seems a bit melodramatic.
6. I absolutely did not approve of it, but if anyone tried to open schools and keep things as they normally are it was Austin. He even had unvaccinated staff working in person during the winter wave of a deadly pandemic.
7. In summary, I agree Austin needs to go, but for other reasons. Not because the normal cultural and social norms have been put on pause because of a pandemic, health guidance that is out of his control, and that he likely doesn’t want he or the district to be liable if there is somehow a Covid outbreak at these celebrations. Let’s also state that this parent group constantly sues the district for any minor grievance even when school is normal. I can only imagine the furor and outrage if their special children got Covid during a school approved function.


Bob L
Registered user
Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2021 at 10:38 pm
Bob L, Barron Park
Registered user
on Apr 21, 2021 at 10:38 pm

Baffled that the school board puts up with Don Austin’s terrible (and terribly consistent) poor communication. He is fixated on being the “first” and the “best,” cannot handle different opinions, misleads [portion removed] when it helps his case, and is routinely smug and condescending. Please, elected school board members, do better. Hire a better superintendent.


Broken
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 22, 2021 at 1:03 pm
Broken , Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Apr 22, 2021 at 1:03 pm

We have a school board that cannot see the forest through the trees and an egotistical, misogynistic superintendent. They seem to have a tight bond, sadly.

Our students are suffering, especially the older ones. These leaders do not get it.

We can vote for new candidates at election time, how do we get rid of Don Austin?


Resident11
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Apr 22, 2021 at 1:31 pm
Resident11, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Apr 22, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Folks, you should understand that our rotating door of superintendents is not doing our district any good. I believe that Austin has done much good this past year. I also know that no one is perfect and I try to help people be successful. Have you done that? Even if you believe Austin's behavior has been so poor that it merits his immediate firing ("one day more" is intolerable? really?), consider the impact on our district. If I could fire one party from this district, it would be the parents, and especially the parents who want heads to roll every time something doesn't go their way. Enough.


ProfvilleResident
Registered user
Professorville
on May 8, 2021 at 11:33 pm
ProfvilleResident, Professorville
Registered user
on May 8, 2021 at 11:33 pm

@Resident11, Deeper than parents just feeling miffed things didn’t go their way. Our elected school board reps are upholding an insecure superintendent whose prime focus is self-congratulatory media attention. He displays a consistent inability to receive dissenting opinion or even to really hear feedback.

@Rebecca Eisenberg, thank you for your persistence over process and accountability. Your comments over Austin’s contract extension were extremely informative. Board members escaped any actual accountability then over the extension + bringing Austin’s buddy up from SoCal to be his deputy. Highly revealing of how our board operates, and the issues you flagged then are continuing to play out here.


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