Palo Alto Unified School District secondary schools will continue with a distance learning structure heading into the 2020-21 school year, with opportunities for students to regularly visit campuses for small-group interactions.

In the email sent out to PAUSD parents this afternoon, Superintendent Don Austin announced the reopening plan to be considered on Friday by the Board of Education for the upcoming semester. 

The proposed conditions for middle and high schoolers, directly from Austin’s email, include the following:

S1. All schools will begin instruction through distance learning with opportunities for students to regularly visit campuses for targeted small-group interactions

S2. Extra-curricular activities available in socially distanced settings

S3. Grades will be assigned

S4. All schools and classes will follow an established routine schedule with synchronous components

S5. Robust professional development will be provided to all teachers

S6. PAUSD+ will serve historically challenged students and provide support and consistency

S7. Attendance will be taken daily

S8. Physical returns to school will be evaluated routinely

S9. Students who do not return when schools physically reopen will require medical exemptions and will move to a Home & Hospital setting. Home & Hospital course offerings may not mirror the breadth of courses offered during in-person instruction.

Editors’ note: “S” stands for secondary school, for grades 6-12.

Among other parts of the plan, the proposal includes a routine schedule with synchronous components as opposed to the asynchronous model that was adopted for the end of the spring semester. Grades will also be assigned to students, in comparison to the credit/no credit system in spring semester. 

Palo Alto High School rising senior Hannah Zhou has mixed feelings about the district’s decision.

“Overall, I’m disappointed but also not surprised especially given that the number of cases of COVID-19 have been increasing recently,” Zhou said in a message to Verde Magazine. “I’m glad that the district is taking appropriate precautions, though obviously I would prefer if school was in-person.”

Despite her disappointment about missing out on a traditional senior year experience, Zhou appreciates decisions the District has made under difficult circumstances.

“I think the district has tried to handle the situation to the best of their ability considering they’ve never had to deal with something like this before and have been relatively transparent through district meetings, briefings, etc.,” she said.

The possibility of a full physical reopening will be evaluated by PAUSD at checkpoints starting Sept. 11. From that date forward, parents will receive status updates each Friday with a minimum of one week notice before significant program revisions are implemented.

In contrast, parents or guardians of students in PAUSD elementary schools must choose between a hybrid or full distance learning program for their family by mid-July, as “the nature of elementary schools allows for reasonable cohorts within classrooms,” according to Austin’s message. Elementary school students will return to campuses in two alternating cohorts with half-day schedules. 

The proposed conditions for elementary school students include the following:

E1. Families select between a hybrid or distance learning program by mid-July

E2. Distance learning students will be assigned a dedicated distance learning teacher

E3. In-person instruction will occur through an A / B alternating day schedule (half of class attends each day)

E4. Teachers will provide synchronous contact to alternating groups to maintain consistency

E5. PAUSD will explore multiple child-care options for families

E6. In-person instructional minutes will meet or exceed the established state standard

E7. Attendance will be taken daily

E8. Elementary school families self-selecting distance learning are not guaranteed a physical return to the home school they left.

Editors’ note: “E” stands for elementary school, for grades K-5. 

According to a document released today by the Santa Clara Public Health Department to serve as a guideline for the reopening of K-12 schools for the upcoming school year, in-person instruction should be prioritized. 

“Education, just like healthcare and food provision, is an essential service in our community,” the document stated. “And as such, the reopening of school campuses for in-person instruction with strict safety protocols should be prioritized.” 

In addition to the physical health of students, the department hopes to prioritize mental health. 

“Disruption of normal childhood social interactions also have a profound adverse impact on students’ social and emotional well-being,” the document stated. 

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