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As public health officials emphasize 'social distancing,' more private schools move classes online in response to coronavirus

Santa Clara County health department has not recommended campus closures

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Castilleja School in Palo Alto will close its campus on March 16, through spring break "at a minimum," school leaders said. Photo by Sinead Chang.

Castilleja School will be closing its Palo Alto campus and moving all classes online out of an "abundance of caution" — a step that more local private K-12 schools are taking to stem the potential spread of the new coronavirus, as public schools remain open.

"Given the spread of coronavirus in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and the increasing number of local schools pursuing online learning in the face of the virus, Castilleja has decided that closing campus and resuming classes remotely is the best course of action for its students and employees," the private all-girls middle and high school announced on Wednesday.

There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus to date at Castilleja. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department is not currently recommending closing schools, though it will consider whether a campus should close if a staff member or student is confirmed to have COVID-19.

"Children have not been shown to be a high-risk group for serious illness from this virus, and schools can still limit the number of people in close proximity to one another," reads a county public health FAQ. "As much as possible, children should be allowed to carry on with their education and normal activities."

Students, if sent home, could also expose more vulnerable, older family members, the county has said.

Castilleja's campus will close on Monday, March 16, through spring break "at a minimum," school leaders said. Castilleja had already canceled classes this Monday to allow teachers to prepare for the possibly of moving their instruction online.

A growing number of local private schools are shuttering temporarily in response to public health recommendations to increase social distancing, including the Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, the International School of the Peninsula in Palo Alto, Bowman School in Palo Alto, the Primary School in East Palo Alto, Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park, Woodside Priory in Portola Valley, Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, Canterbury Christian School in Los Altos and Serra High School in San Mateo. Menlo School, which closed from March 4 to 6 after a staff member interacted with a relative who tested positive for the coronavirus, announced Thursday morning that it was closing again, at least through the end of spring break on April 13.

At Castilleja, students will access courses through online learning platform Schoology and advisory meetings through Google Hangouts or Zoom. Online counseling support will also be available via Zoom. The school will provide internet hot spot devices for any student or employee who does not have access to high speed internet at home and is directly reaching out to families.

Castilleja is urging students to practice social distancing while school is canceled, which means not meeting in large groups to study or socialize.

In a Wednesday update, the Palo Alto school district described closing schools is a "last resort as it causes significant community disruption."

"Not every family or parent has the time off or the financial security to stay home from work with their child. Many families also rely on schools and staff for basic needs for their children, including regular meals, health care and child care. If schools shut down, vulnerable families will experience the greatest burden and suffer negative impacts," the district said.

Palo Alto Unified has canceled large events, including school dances and group assemblies, and is not allowing parents or visitors on campuses during school hours, among other restrictions.

"We will be ready for potential closures," Superintendent Don Austin tweeted on Wednesday evening. "Will also follow guidance of health professionals. Dismissal does not equal quarantine."

The Menlo Park City School District, however, is now encouraging families who can to keep their children home and will provide them with remote learning until spring break starts at the end of the month. The district's schools will remain open, providing busing, hot lunch and after-school programs to students.

"MPCSD's goal is to find a middle ground between shutting everything down and continuing our normal program," Superintendent Erik Burmeister wrote in a message to families and staff on Wednesday.

Staff members and a student in the Menlo Park City School District were asked to stay home after learning they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

The Ravenswood City School District remains open, though the East Palo Alto district canceled all field trips for March and has suspended nonessential volunteer programs from coming into classrooms. On Thursday evening, the school board, however, directed staff to close school on Monday and Tuesday to allow teachers to prepare for distance learning.

Local colleges and universities are also shifting to online instruction. At Stanford University, which announced on Wednesday two new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, classes will not meet in person until further notice. The university also asked undergraduate students this week to leave campus at the end of winter quarter if possible. Stanford is telling students to plan to return to campus when in-person classes resume, but it's unclear when that will be.

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District announced on Wednesday that in-person classes at the two community colleges would move online starting Monday, March 16, possibly for the rest of the academic year, but hoping to resume regular instruction as soon as possible in the spring. For some activity, studio, and laboratory classes, however, teachers and students can choose to continue to meet in person to finish this quarter. The campuses themselves will remain open, though Foothill College in Los Altos Hills has canceled all on-campus events through the end of April.

Menlo College is also moving instruction online, noting that at least 12 other colleges and universities have done the same.

As of Friday morning, March 13, there are 66 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County; at least 16 of those are community-transmitted cases. Of the 66, one case resulted in a death. The county now has about a quarter of the state's total cases.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.

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Comments

64 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2020 at 10:23 am

PAUSD needs to close its schools. It's the right thing to do to stop the spread of COVID-19. Teachers are the ones who are cleaning, if they had purchased their own supplies, but at most things are getting wiped down once a day. We cannot practice any type of social distancing -- students are crowded into small secondary classrooms.


40 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 12, 2020 at 11:01 am

Because certain families depend on Pausd for child care and meals is not a good reason to endanger the health of other vulnerable members of the community.

What's the real reason?


31 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2020 at 11:44 am

Close the schools for heavens sake! Should have done it last week. Without a doubt the schools have already made many sick.


33 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2020 at 12:07 pm

Please think of the adults at school as well! We have families and don't want to get sick and not get paid!

How can a class of 33 practice social distancing?! How about 200+ kids in a lunchroom?!?


27 people like this
Posted by adobe
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2020 at 12:32 pm

PAUSD needs to close its schools ASAP, before it is too late!


24 people like this
Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 12, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Seattle public schools finally close after weeks of saying the same things we’re hearing (community disruption, kids need food, etc...). PAUSD and probably all Santa Clara & surrounding county school districts need to get their heads out of the sand. Short term pain to avoid this crisis from getting more of a foothold and negatively impacting the community for an even longer time. Kids may not be as adversely affected, but for sure they have grandparents & parents who will be. Please be proactive and not just react when we undoubtedly see a severe spike in cases. We are way behind the curve on this.


24 people like this
Posted by Paly student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2020 at 1:15 pm

They need to close PAUSD schools. Though I may not be at “high risk”, my parents and grandparents who live with me certainly are. PAUSD is not closing the schools because it would hurt them economically, if they were truly thinking about the health of the students, staff, and the rest of the community, they would have closed the school as soon as a student’s parent was exposed to the coronavirus. I want to stay home right now to make sure I don’t get the virus or spread it to anyone else, but as a Paly student, it is very difficult to not go to school while staying caught up. PAUSD needs to take action to protect the community and keep the virus from spreading further.


8 people like this
Posted by Dabb3
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2020 at 1:17 pm

The top Public Health official in Santa Clara county said the "harms of widespread school closure outweigh the benefits". Thankfully, the Palo Alto school district is listening. Not sure why so many people here want to go against the recommendation of her? Probably the usual over-reacting fearful types.


22 people like this
Posted by Paly student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2020 at 1:19 pm

PAUSD needs to close the schools. if they wait for a student or staff member to have a confirmed case of the coronavirus, it will be too late. they will have already spread throughout the school. and i am almost certain that at least one person at Paly, student or staff, already has it but has not been tested. PAUSD needs to take action to ensure the health of its students and staff.


18 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2020 at 1:23 pm

You have the far left spewing PC nonsense at the same time the far right is spewing conspiracy nonsense. Perfect storm for disaster. Of course schools should close. It was obvious weeks ago. Of course this is worse than the flu, and not a bio weapon. Sheesh.

Don't wait for PAUSD to make the right decision pull your kids out now.


15 people like this
Posted by Senior
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 12, 2020 at 1:49 pm

I have heard that Los Altos closed their schools starting today.


5 people like this
Posted by Local parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2020 at 2:04 pm

It doesn't have to be an all or nothing. If the districts practice a flipped classroom situation, they could stagger bringing in small groups at different times in the day, clean between or even just do everything outdoors with distancing. But at least it could give the students a social touchpoint instead of sending them all home.

Those of us who chose to homeschool in the area know the advantages of spending less time in lecture and more time letting students do stuff and learn on their own. It can take a lot of time to be comfortable with that if students are used to being told what to do and doing lots of exams and problem sets all the time. But it takes just as much time for the schools. Maybe this is a good thing if schools start thinking about how they foster student learning independence and stop being such micromanagers of students' actions.

We could keep the schools open in a way that serves social needs and provides the free lunches, etc, and that also achieves the physical distances and good hygiene practices. It just takes a will to do it.


6 people like this
Posted by Dementia Joe
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 12, 2020 at 3:10 pm

“March Madness” has taken on a whole new meaning!


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2020 at 3:22 pm


Count the number of people that each member of your family came in contact with today. And then decrease that number tomorrow and every day thereafter until you get to the absolute minimum necessary for your health and happiness.


4 people like this
Posted by Dementia Joe
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 12, 2020 at 3:32 pm

@Peter Carpenter:

"Count the number of people that each member of your family came in contact with today."

Didn't you go to a city council meeting in Menlo Park last night? How many people were there? You'll get to have a pretty long count-down!


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2020 at 3:41 pm

"Didn't you go to a city council meeting in Menlo Park last night? How many people were there? You'll get to have a pretty long count-down!"

Yes - and iI stayed more than six feet away from all but three of them. Hence not "in contact" with them.


9 people like this
Posted by Fed up!
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 12, 2020 at 5:42 pm

Close the schools already and make it equitable across the board for all students. Kids, whose parents keep them home for the sake of safety and not spreading this virus that we know very little about, shouldn’t be penalized! Move as many classes online as possible and shut the schools! We are putting elderly and health compromised members of our community at risk. This is a crime! Please stop this insanity!! It’s our duty as humans to prevent the spread of this virus and stop the deaths associated with this


5 people like this
Posted by Sergei
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2020 at 7:17 pm

Close the schools, or at least implement the remote learning for everyone who can stay at home! Right now the absences are not excused!
Note that the ratio of true cases vs confirmed cases in China was very high until the lockdown (as high as 10x). So we likely have the same number of unconfirmed cases in the wild as confirmed cases. We are likely to see the confirmation looking into the growth of confirmed cases.
Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by MVresident2003
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 12, 2020 at 7:46 pm

Diocese of San Jose (basically PA down to Gilroy) announced closure of all schools thru 3/30


1 person likes this
Posted by MVresident2003
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 12, 2020 at 7:48 pm

I should clarify. There will be some type of “online learning”, apparently teachers will be figuring it out tomorrow and Monday, “remote” school to start Tuesday.


2 people like this
Posted by Close the schools
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 12, 2020 at 10:11 pm

Schools should close. Kids are germ factories and take those bugs home to their families. This is a highly critical time to do the hard thing to stave off disaster for all our elders. The number of “official” cases here are only low because they are NOT testing most sick people for the virus. I know several people who are sick with respiratory symptoms and are being denied testing. The Santa Clara Department of Health has its head in the sand. They should talk to their counterparts in China about what they just went through. Delaying closing our schools is just going to make this wave of illness even worse.


3 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 13, 2020 at 12:13 am

“ Students, if sent home, could also expose more vulnerable, older family members, the county has said.”

Do kids live at the school? Are they not going home each night?

Also, if parents rely on schools for food and health care, then there is a problem. Parents should be paying for their own children’s food and health care — not the taxpayer. If parents can’t afford to take care of their children then they probably ought not be living in one of the most expensive zip codes in the entire country.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2020 at 4:57 am

Fractured strange leadership There is an unsteady flow in communication and no communication to kids at school at paly . Kind of like the stranger on campus with the principal sitting his office not hitting the shelter in place alarm.

Kids read the weird email and think they will get lower grades if they chose to stay home and limit known risk.

Hate to tell you but there are no emergency supplies or protocols or training in place for any emergency at paly. Hey board .. it is your job to enforce caves code!


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2020 at 4:59 am

california Ed code not cave code . Ok maybe they are under cave code


2 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2020 at 6:32 am

I wonder if the share of local and statewide residents’ tax dollars will be reduced if they send the kids home for an extended period. It seems like the only way to explain their strange behavior.


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