Palo Alto Unified School District students in Grades 7-12 will be allowed to return to campus on March 1 if Santa Clara County is in the state’s red tier of pandemic risk for five consecutive days, according to Superintendent Don Austin.

At the school board meeting last night, Austin announced plans to allow all interested students back on campus to do “Zoom in a room.” Students with last names beginning with A-L will be on campus for two days a week, and students with last names beginning with M-Z will be on campus the other two days. Students will not be required to commit to the on-campus learning option, and will be allowed to decide which of their allotted days they will attend class on campus and which days they will stay home.

“The plan would accommodate every student — Grades 7 through 12 — who wants to be on campus, and requires no change of schedule or teacher, covers all, not just a couple classes, and is done with robust safety measures,” Austin said.

Parents and teachers shared varied opinions on this plan during public comment. Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School art teacher Paul Gralen was one of many teachers who expressed his concerns with the plan.

“Everyone agrees that we are in a tremendously difficult situation,” Gralen said. “I want nothing more than to be back in the classroom with our students, but I want to do it safely. Putting anyone into a crowded and closed environment for six to eight hours per day at this point in time is the height of irresponsibility.”

Austin did not discuss specific health and safety protocols at this meeting, but stated that more details are to come.


“I want nothing more than to be back in the classroom with our students, but I want to do it safely.”

— Paul Gralen, Greene Middle School art teacher


Earlier in the meeting, Austin addressed concerns surrounding the safety of the plan, and used hybrid learning in PAUSD elementary schools as an example of why the board believes it is safe to move forward with the secondary school opening plan.

“We’ve been back since October with over 2,100 students — we’ve not had to close a single school and we have not had [COVID-19] spread within a school,” Austin said. “We have had cases of COVID because COVID exists in the community, in our state and in our country, but the lack of spreads speaks to the protocols that we have in place.”

The majority of parent callers were supportive of Austin and the board’s efforts in working to bring students back to campus.

“I’m very encouraged by everything that he [Austin] said today,” PAUSD parent Heidi Volkmar said. “Let’s base our school opening decision on science facts and guidelines from the CDC, not based on personal stories and fears.”

Board Member Jesse Ladomirak pointed out that many public comment speakers provided scientific evidence, but interpretations of that science varied.

“We just heard a bunch of callers citing science to us and they were coming to completely opposite conclusions on what that science means when it comes to reopening schools,” Ladomirak said.

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