The Palo Alto Board of Education authorized the hybrid learning plan last night that will allow around 30-40% of secondary school students to return to campus in early January.

The board voted, 5-0, in favor of reopening secondary school campuses, while the two student representatives, whose votes are preferential, both voted against the motion.

“From the beginning, when the state first shut us down, the top priority was getting kids back to campus when they can get kids back to campus,” board member Jennifer DiBrienza said. “We started with the little ones [elementary schoolers] and now we are finally getting to secondary, so I am glad we are finally doing that.”

Under the current hybrid plan and according to simulations run by district staff, sites can support around 30-40% of students for in-person learning. If numbers exceed that capacity, the district will most likely implement a lottery system to determine which students will return to on-campus learning.

High schoolers, who are among those with the option to return to campus, will attend 75-minute English and history-social studies periods twice a week, and all other classes will be virtual. Each hybrid class will have a maximum of 15 students and students will be placed in cohorts of 30 to 60, with two to four teachers.


My students have told me that they are very unhappy with the idea that all of their teachers could change and that their courses could change.

—Rachel Congress, Gunn High School teacher


If a student chooses to continue distance learning, they will continue with the current bell schedule. However, class sizes will likely increase to up to 40 students per class, according to Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Sharon Ofek.

Additionally, teachers and schedules may change for students in both the hybrid and distance learning programs, Ofek said.

Many teachers, parents and students spoke out during public comment against the hybrid model at last night’s board meeting. Henry M. Gunn High School teacher Rachel Congress voiced her concerns about returning to school in January, and about how it could shift student and teachers schedules.

“To restart the entire community building process in January, even though I will not be teaching on campus, is outrageous,” Congress said. “My students have told me that they are very unhappy with the idea that all of their teachers could change and that their courses could change.”

Board members said they were optimistic that the hybrid model would help support students who need in-person learning, and help students feel less isolated. Board member Melissa Baten Caswell spoke about what she had heard from a teacher who had returned to in-person schooling in a nearby district.

“I talked to a teacher in Menlo Park today and she was saying that in her hybrid class with 15 kids in it, the kids are socializing,” Baten Caswell said. “They’re staying at their desks six feet apart, but they’re socializing, and she has been surprised at how well they have adapted.”

Parents of PAUSD secondary school students received an email today giving them a choice between hybrid and distance learning. Decisions are binding through the end of the school year and selection is due no later than Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. Families who do not respond within the given time frame will automatically be placed in the full distance learning model.

Schedules for the second semester, currently set to begin on Jan. 7, will be released on Dec.14.

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