Back to campus
In late October, before the hybrid plan for January was announced, 64% of Palo Alto High School parents and students selected, in a survey administered by the Palo Alto Unified School District, that they would want to return to school in hybrid form. Clearly, there is a need within the PAUSD community for in-person learning.
However, once the hybrid schedule was announced and passed by the school board, only 10% of Paly students selected the hybrid option, according to an update from Principal Brent Kline. This is because the hybrid schedule is atrocious. The classes that students were offered had minimal in-person learning, and in-person classes — English and social studies — were those that function best virtually. Classes such as sciences and arts, where the quality of the course cannot be maintained in distance learning, remained virtual. Additionally, the hybrid plan could only support 30-40% of students, so even if more students had chosen the hybrid option, they may not have been accepted.
The small percentage of students that chose hybrid does not mean that students do not want to return. It means that a better plan needs to be made –– a plan that serves the needs of the students. Expanding PAUSD+ is simply not enough.
PAUSD has a duty to provide students with the best education it can, and this cannot be done through online school.
At the school board meetings regarding reopening, many PAUSD community members stated that benefits of hybrid learning were insignificant because the social distancing, the masks and the plastic dividers would make it hard for students to socialize and teachers to teach. However, I hang out with friends every week, six feet apart and wearing masks and it does not impede our ability to communicate or socialize.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Santa Clara County Health Official Sara Cody are just some of the supporters of prioritizing the safe reopening of schools. Both the CDC and AAP cite studies that show that children are low risk, and that the transmission rates in educational settings are low.
However, students are at heightened risk of isolation’s dangerous, even life-threatening effects. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, enforced isolation increases adolescents’ likelihood of anxiety and depression. Keeping students home may seem like the safer choice, but at what cost?
Additionally, children are at an increased risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence due to shelter-in-place orders, according to UNICEF. With distance learning, it is easier for dangerous home environments to go undetected because teachers, who are the leading reporters of suspected abuse, are now only able to catch a glimpse of students over Zoom.
No one signed up to do their jobs through a pandemic, but COVID-19 is now a part of our lives, and we must learn to live with it. Essential employees, including both of my parents, have been working since the start of the pandemic because others rely on them. Thousands of students and families depend on PAUSD for their education. PAUSD has a duty to provide students with the best education it can, and this cannot be done through online school.
In-person school is necessary for students’ well-being and the upkeep of their education. With the dire importance of returning to school in person, Paly must reopen as soon as it is safe to do so even if that means a transition part way through the semester.
By Ryan Seto
The process of reopening Palo Alto schools has been chaotic, to say the least. There has been overwhelming backlash from students, parents and teachers because the Palo Alto Unified School District has made it clear that campuses should open as soon as county regulations permit it.
Creating a plan to go back to school while the pandemic rages is a logistical nightmare. At the bare minimum, Palo Alto High School — whether we return in January or August — will have to implement limited class sizes, plastic dividers and social distancing guidelines, which will make interacting with peers harder than virtual learning — largely defeating the purpose of going back to school. In any plan that the district proposes, these precautions will be necessary, so it simply doesn’t make sense to return.
Throughout this process the school district did not communicate or listen to teachers and students to the extent that they should’ve. The Paly and Henry M. Gunn High School student school board representatives laid out clear reasons as to why they wanted to take more time creating a new plan that addressed criticism from students and faculty, but were ultimately outvoted by a group of adults who don’t have to deal with the risks of going back to school.
If we were to return to school, the district would give the small percentage of students who want to go back the option to, but in doing so, they would disrupt the schedules and education of the others who did not choose to. The meager benefits for the slim 10% who actually want to return are not worth the consequences that would fall on the rest of us.
Beyond students, teachers were hardly counseled throughout this process. It’s not fair to hold a teacher’s earnings hostage if they aren’t comfortable with returning to school.
It’s not fair to hold a teacher’s earnings hostage if they aren’t comfortable with returning to school.
Instead of pushing a hybrid learning plan that leaves no one satisfied, the district should focus on developing a better model of distance learning and expanding PAUSD+, a program providing additional support to students who are at higher risk for poor learning outcomes or face unique challenges in the virtual environment.
The spread of the virus doesn’t just stop at us; it can spread to our family and their coworkers. We’re essentially gambling with lives we don’t have to risk given that the distance model is working relatively well.
It’s clear that the hybrid plan proposed and passed by the district falls short in many ways, but it is also evident that these problems cannot be fixed without further risking the health of our students and faculty, as many of the issues in the plans are necessary to address safety or financial concerns.
As coronavirus cases rise and Santa Clara County has moved back to California’s purple COVID-19 tier, we need to continue to remind ourselves of the severity of this pandemic. We can’t reopen safely by pushing through a half-baked plan. This is our education — and our families’ and teacher’s lives — at risk, and we need to be involved in making our voices heard.
PAUSD board members and student board representatives discuss the secondary school reopening plan during the Nov. 10 board meeting.