Updated 8:40 p.m. Friday, March 14
All schools within Santa Clara County, including Palo Alto Unified School District, will close for three weeks in response to COVID-19, according to a press conference from Santa Clara County Public Health professionals this morning.
“Schools will be closed to students beginning Monday, March 16, through the end of PAUSD’s regularly scheduled spring break (which ends Friday, April 10) to reconcile new gathering guidelines with the realities of daily school life,” PAUSD Superintendent Don Austin stated in an email to the community at 11:33 a.m.
“Schools will be closed to students beginning Monday, March 16, through the end of PAUSD’s regularly scheduled spring break.”
— Don Austin, superintendent
The district will release additional information about the closure by the end of the day on Monday, as well as updates throughout the upcoming weeks about the continuation of critical services and learning.
This announcement comes as a sudden change from Austin’s message yesterday, which stated that schools would remain open but healthy students who wished to stay home would have access to limited online learning resources.
“Overnight, the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and county health dept changed their directive and we followed suit,” PAUSD Board Member Jennifer DiBrienza stated in an email to Verde Magazine this afternoon.
Staff members are still expected to physically report to work on Monday, March 16 and work remotely from Tuesday, March 17 through Friday, March 20. According to officials at the press conference, the district office will remain open for essential services.
As of March 13 at 8:40 p.m., the county has a total of 91 recorded cases of COVID-19, according to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
“We anticipate many more cases in the days and weeks to come,” Director of Public Health and County Health Officer Sara Cody stated during the press conference.
Cody signed a mandatory order prohibiting public or private gatherings of more than 100 people, which will come into effect the morning of March 14. The order will stay in effect for at least three weeks.
PAUSD Board Member Shounak Dharap believes closing schools was the right decision in response to the pandemic.
“We need to do everything we can to stay ahead of the ball here, especially when there is so much conflicting information coming from all over the world with respect to this pandemic,” he stated in an email. “A precautionary school closure is the right decision to mitigate spread in our community.”
Flexible learning options
Palo Alto High School Principal Adam Paulson announced that non-required “Flexible Learning Options” will become available via Schoology for Paly students beginning Monday, March 16.
“These resources are not required, but rather a suggestion to keep in touch with the school community and maintain your essential skills during the school closure period,” Paulson stated in a Schoology note to students at 5:11 p.m. today. “The resources are not meant to replicate a classroom experience, just to keep your mind connected to the learning.”
Chromebooks are available for pickup at the Paly Tech Office on March 16 between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. for students who need to borrow a device in order to access online resources.
Following the news of PAUSD’s closure, Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Student Affairs Yolanda Conaway said that the district is aware of the potential academic and economic impacts the decision will have.
“Students who rely on key services are the most impacted (e.g. meals, health services, special education services, mental health services etc.),” Conaway stated in an email to Verde this afternoon. “And there will more than likely be a disparate economic impact to hourly and low wage workers due to increased childcare costs or the necessity to take a leave of absence to care for children.”
“Students who rely on key services are the most impacted … and there will more than likely be a disparate economic impact to hourly and low wage workers due to increased childcare costs or the necessity to take a leave of absence to care for children.”
— Yolanda Conaway, assistant superintendent of equity and student affairs
Conaway also said that both elementary and secondary staff are prepared to support students educationally and resourcefully during their time away from school.
“We are also happy to be able to provide meal assistance for families in need,” Conaway stated. “This, coupled with the community assistance to families in East Palo Alto makes me feel more confident that our students will have some of their basic needs met.”
“Lunch will be available for pickup each day of the school closure from 11:00am to 1:00pm beginning March 16 and ending on April 3.”
— Alva Spencer, nutrition services director
There are still no updates regarding several logistics such as school reopening, staff work calendars, flexible learning opportunities or waivers for instructional minutes. More information regarding online learning and childcare alternatives to come after Monday’s update.
Free lunches for all students
Free lunches will be available for drive-thru-style pick up at select school sites to all students under 18 throughout the closure, PAUSD Nutrition Services Director Alva Spence announced in a memo to the community this afternoon.
“Lunch will be available for pickup each day of the school closure from 11:00am to 1:00pm beginning March 16 and ending on April 3,” Spencer stated in the memo. “Meals are not to be consumed on the school sites. Lunches will be distributed drive-thru style, meaning food services staff members will hand the meals to you in your vehicle.”
Children must be present to receive a meal.
Later this afternoon, Paly Athletic Director Nelson Gifford announced that all school sports will be canceled in line with PAUSD school closures.
“We will not be holding any practices or training at Paly or any other venue during the school closure as per SCVAL [Santa Clara Valley Athletic League] guidelines,” Gifford stated in a message to Paly athletes this afternoon.
Following the trend
The county’s decision follows closures from nearby public and private schools as well as local universities, and emergency declarations from nearby cities Los Altos and Mountain View.
The San Francisco Unified School District announced yesterday that all 113 schools will close for three weeks after multiple students and their family members showed signs of respiratory illness.
The San Mateo County Office of Education closed Sequoia Union High School District schools from March 16 to April 3 as well, transitioning to “At Home/Distance Learning” according to a statement released by Superintendent Mary Streshly.
Foothill College has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus, but will move all in-person classes to virtual platforms regardless, beginning March 16. This affects students in the Middle College dual enrollment program as well, and all college lecture classes will be moved online.
Stanford University has also moved in-person classes to online formats for the remainder of winter quarter and into spring quarter. The university announced on March 12 that all winter and spring sports seasons are canceled until further notice and all university-sponsored international travel has been suspended as well.