The Palo Alto school board will discuss on Tuesday a detailed plan for reopening schools this fall, including proposed bell schedules and intensified health and safety precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus if students and teachers return to campus.
The draft plan, the most in-depth one yet presented by the district about what schools could look like when they reopen, includes three scenarios: schools continue to operate completely virtually; move to a blended learning model; or return to full in-person instruction. District officials have said the second scenario is the most likely and what they're focusing their efforts on.
"There is growing reason to believe that opening schools virtually is a real possibility. As such, PAUSD efforts will shift soon to plans around virtual openings or virtual periods of time throughout the school year," a staff report states.
The district has a draft schedule in the event that 100% virtual learning continues for middle and high schoolers. It mimics a partial school day, with four virtual class periods a day four days a week. Wednesday would be a day for independent student work time, teacher office hours and staff meetings. There is no remote schedule yet for elementary schools.
If schools reopen with a mix of virtual and in-person participation, or a blended model, there would be a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning. Students would again receive traditional grades. The district has proposed splitting elementary school students into two groups that attend school in the morning or afternoon five days a week, with slots in between for cleaning.
Middle and high schoolers would also tentatively be split into two groups that go to school in person on alternating days; the other two days a week they would be learning remotely from home.
For students who have difficulty learning online, the district plans to develop "alternative methods" for them in order to "mitigate learning deficits," the plan states.
If schools reopen with no restrictions, which the district has said is unlikely, it will be a "return to a new normal," the plan states, including focusing on "effective use of educational technology" and providing additional support for students as they return to school.
Reopened schools will have increased safety and cleaning measures, including taking students' and staff's temperatures daily, spacing desks out to allow for social distancing, ensuring good air ventilation and adjusting capacity limits for common spaces like multipurpose rooms and libraries, among other precautions. All students and staff will be required to wear masks throughout the day. Students purchasing lunch at schools will have to wear "appropriate" personal protective equipment (PPE); sanitize their hands when they enter and leave lunch spaces; and eat lunch at appropriately distanced tables. On school buses, there will be assigned seating to practice social distancing, windows will be kept open for ventilation and masked and gloved drivers will regularly disinfect all surfaces.
No visitors or volunteers, including parents, will be allowed on campuses.
An open letter signed by 124 Palo Alto parents, which grew to about 200 by Tuesday evening, asks the district to accommodate different students' needs — including those who might themselves have or live with family members who have underlying health conditions — by offering livestreamed, recorded and in-person instruction this fall. They are asking that all students "be educated in accordance with pre-COVID19 state mandated instructional minutes, and that year long course curriculums be completed."
"We know the above is possible, and we request that PAUSD take steps to accomplish the above and commit to do so, starting in the fall of 2020. Student learning depends upon it," the parents wrote.
The school board also will discuss on Tuesday proposed budget cuts and layoffs to address a $3 million deficit, the result of closing schools for the last two months. Personnel cuts under consideration include eight full-time teachers, six full-time classified employees, five full-time special education aides and a teacher and support position at the Ronald McDonald House, which serves children in medical crisis who can't attend school, some of whom are immunocompromised.
The elimination of these positions at Ronald McDonald House would result in the school's closure, and patients and their siblings would be redirected to the hospital school at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Ronald McDonald House Chief Executive Officer Laura Keegan Boudreau wrote in an email. Keegan Boudreau planned to ask the school board to postpone a decision on these positions until her staff can meet with district leadership to discuss them. By Tuesday afternoon, three hours before the board meeting was set to begin, Keegan Boudreau said the district had reconsidered the budget proposal and would instead meet with the Ronald McDonald House staff to renegotiate their memorandum of understanding.
The board also will consider waiving their two-meeting rule to approve a four-year lease agreement with the city of Palo Alto for Cubberley Community Center. City leaders had previously indicated they might pull out of the lease to mitigate the city's $40 million budget shortfall, which would have left the district scrambling to address an even greater deficit. Under the new agreement, the district would receive $3.3 million less from the city per year.
The proposed monthly rent is $208,333 for use of the theater, pavilion, Gym A, Gym B, rooms G5 and G8 and the fields; $13,790 for the Junior Museum and Zoo; and $5,650 for the S Building.
The virtual board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast on Cable TV Channel 28 and midpenmedia.org. Those wishing to participate by Zoom can do so by going to pausd.zoom.us/j/97720853617 or dialing 669-900-6833 and using Meeting ID: 949 9734 6242. View the full agenda here.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.