Secondary school students will not be returning in-person for the 2020-21 school year due to Santa Clara County’s purple COVID-19 tier status, according to an update from Palo Alto High School Principal Brent Kline.

The announcement follows an email from Superintendent Don Austin on Nov. 19 after Santa Clara County moved into the purple tier, California’s most restrictive COVID-19 level. In the message, Austin indicated that orchestrating a reopening for second semester by Jan. 7 would be highly unlikely, given the difficulty in scheduling for the hybrid model and timing with Thanksgiving Break and Winter Recess. According to California’s K-12 Reopening Framework, a county must be in the red tier, or off the State’s monitoring list, for 14 days before schools are eligible for reopening.

Instead, the Palo Alto Unified School District hopes to expand the current PAUSD+ program to include students who selected the hybrid learning model, allowing them to return to campus twice a week starting second semester. Paly and Henry M. Gunn High School each had approximately 10% of students choose the hybrid learning model prior to Santa Clara County’s move to the purple tier, according to Kline.

The return of large in-person cohorts will be postponed for the foreseeable future, Kline said. 

For students, the cancellation is only the latest event of a tumultuous school year with even more uncertainty ahead. Outdoor sports workouts have been suspended until further notice, according to Paly Athletics Director Nelson Gifford, and plans for events like Spirit Week, prom and graduation remain up in the air. 

“I wasn’t super surprised that hybrid didn’t end up happening following the purple tier [announcement] and I was a bit skeptical even before that happened,” senior Sophia Krugler said. “Even though this is, of course, bad news for the people that wanted to go back and do the hybrid plan, I also think that there’s a reason that we were moved back into the purple tier. The fact that we were going to go partially back with this many cases and with a pretty high risk of an outbreak, … that scared me.”

Related stories

County moves to purple COVID-19 tier: Secondary reopening plan uncertain; elementary schools to stay open for now

PAUSD+ offers additional help to students

Teachers oppose board’s decision to reopen

Distance learning: Continued education during a pandemic

Taking home an IEP: School closures hit Special Ed hard

View all COVID-19 stories here