Local schools are responding differently to the COVID-19 — the novel coronavirus — scare, with some closing their doors and others remaining in session.
As select schools — and one college — in Palo Alto, Atherton, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose shut down temporarily, the Palo Alto Unified School District remains open.
That said, a petition to close PAUSD schools has gained over 1,900 signatures as of March 6. Parent Hao Xu established the petition and aims to have PAUSD take immediate action to keep students safe.
“We parents are calling out the public to support us in our effort to request school closure to protect our kids, school staff and our community,” the petition states.
They request that Spring Break, which is currently scheduled to start on the week of April 6, be extended to two weeks backward into the rest of March. They also ask that the district increase online learning opportunities for students.
PAUSD stays open
In the PAUSD, the community is still feeling anxious about the Feb. 28 news that two, Palo Alto High School and Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School siblings were sent home after their parent was potentially exposed to the virus.
“We have no confirmed cases and no practical reason to close our doors,” Austin stated in his Wednesday update. “We received guidance that secondary exposures (exposure to a person with no symptoms that was exposed to a person with the virus) does not constitute an elevated risk. Had we known that information, I am not sure we would have acted differently in the moment.”
According to Austin’s Wednesday update, the district has temporarily suspended a Board of Education policy banning the use of alcohol-based cleaning products and sanitizers.
Although at least some classrooms were disinfected over the past weekend, economics teacher Debbie Whitson said she does not know whether or not her own classroom was cleaned.
“I use the hand sanitizer with my students … when they come in the room,” Whitson said.
Several Palo Alto High School administrators and health staff have declined to comment on the coronavirus situation due to a new district policy instructing them to decline interviews with members of the press.
Stanford University classes will not meet in-person
In a letter to the community this evening, Stanford University Provost Persis Drell announced that classes will not meet in person for the last two weeks of the winter quarter, effective this Monday. Students will instead learn through online formats of teaching, although the campus will remain open.
“To the extent feasible, we will be moving classes to online formats in place of in-person instruction,” Drell stated. “Any winter quarter final exams that were scheduled to be administered in person will need to be administered in take-home format, complying with university rules for such exams.”
According to an earlier letter today from Drell, two Stanford students are in self-isolation after possible exposure to the virus, although neither are showing any symptoms.
“The students … have been tested at Stanford Health Care; there has been no confirmation of infection at this time, and test results are expected to take up to 24 hours,” Drell stated. “Both students have moved out of their regular undergraduate housing and are in self-isolation elsewhere.”
The in-person Admit Weekend for students who have been accepted to the university, which was scheduled for the weekend of April 23-26, has also been cancelled.
Menlo School closes
Menlo School, a private school in Atherton for grades six through 12, closed on Wednesday after a staff member was potentially exposed to COVID-19 through a family member, according to an email to the community from Head of School Than Healy. The school will remain closed through the weekend.
“This means that all school-related activities will be canceled, including classes, athletics, arts, clubs, and planned field trips,” Healy stated in the email. “We have also engaged a cleaning service and will use the time to deep clean the entire campus.”
Sam, a Menlo student whose name has been changed to protect their identity — students were instructed to decline interviews with the press — said the school made the right decision in closing for the weekend.
“A school environment makes it so easy for that kinda thing to spread,” Sam said. “Our teachers were told not to assign any new work that would force us to learn new concepts on our own, but in many classes, we have writing assignments or things like that that we still need to work on and complete. Some teachers … want to do little online chat forums so we can try to have a class discussion.”
Castilleja School closing next week
Castilleja School, a private middle and high school for girls, is cancelling classes on Monday, although the school reassures that none of the students or staff have reported being exposed to the virus.
“We’d like for our teachers to have time to prepare for synchronous distance learning should the need arise,” Head of School Nanci Kauffman and Chief of Financial and Operating Officer Kathy Layendecker wrote in a message to Castilleja parents.
The private school has developed a COVID-19 Command Team in accordance with its emergency preparedness protocols, and plans to take all actions necessary to keep students safe while still engaged in learning, according to the message.
Various schools in San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland have also temporarily closed, according to Kron4.
Additional reporting by Andie Tetzlaff