After months of negotiations over working conditions for the new school year, which starts remotely in less than two weeks, the school district and teachers union have reached a tentative agreement on a new memorandum of understanding.
The two separate agreements for elementary and secondary schools, which have not yet been ratified, lay out distance-teaching requirements, daily schedules, safety provisions and plans for transitioning from online learning into a hybrid in-person model when public health conditions improve. The district released the agreements on Thursday after a seven-hour negotiation session on Wednesday.
Notably, the union and district have tentatively agreed on a hopeful date when middle and high schools can reopen this fall but haven't found agreement for the elementary schools. If Santa Clara County has been off the state's watchlist for 14 days by Oct. 9, the middle and high schools could reopen on Oct. 12 in a hybrid model determined by the school board, the agreement states. If conditions still haven't sufficiently improved in the county by Nov. 2, full online learning would continue with a "potential" return date of Jan. 7.
The teachers union is arguing to have the same timeline for the elementary level while the district believes elementary schools could potentially reopen sooner than the middle and high schools, according to the MOU.
The Palo Alto Educators Association previously lobbied the district to commit to full distance learning for all students through January 2021.
Under the draft agreements, all teachers will be required to provide daily synchronous instruction at the beginning of each class period and be available for the percentage of the school day they normally work (such as full or part time) during in-person instruction. Teachers will take daily attendance within the first 10 to 20 minutes of virtual classes. Teachers will not be required to come to their classrooms during full distance learning but will be provided with spaces if they want, the agreements state.
The district will provide virtual training to teachers before school starts, the agreements state, on topics including blended learning, flipped classrooms and education-technology tools. Teachers will be "strongly encouraged" but not required to complete an additional 12-hour training related to distance learning by Aug. 10 for a stipend or earned units toward salary advancement.
Before reopening campuses, the district will provide to all staff a safety plan with a list of personal protective equipment, protocols and checklists that "show compliance with all state and locally required regulations in order to show that they are ready to open safely," the MOUs read.
When schools can reopen, certain teachers will be dedicated to teaching students virtually who don't choose to go back to their campuses. In assigning those teachers, the district will take into account "the efficacy of the distance learning program" and whether teachers fall in high-risk groups or live or care for at-risk groups.
If schools reopen and are again required to close, the schools will revert to the agreed-upon distance learning schedules.
The agreements also detail how the district will protect teachers from the spread of COVID-19 when in-person instruction resumes, including by providing sufficient masks, face shields and Plexiglas shields or three-sided cubbies for work that requires being closer than the recommended 6 feet; and establishing a dedicated discretionary fund for the superintendent to "quickly address safety issues arising after reopening."
At the elementary level, third through fifth graders will be required to wear masks in classrooms and students of all ages must wear them in any area outside the classroom (except when eating, drinking or engaging in physical activity). The district and union continue to negotiate mask requirements for younger students, with the union proposing that transitional kindergartners through second graders be required instead of strongly encouraged to wear cloth face coverings in the classroom.
All middle and high schoolers will be required to wear masks inside and outside their classrooms.
Any teachers who are exposed to the coronavirus and required to quarantine will continue to be paid and not have any days subtracted from sick or personal leave as long as they can continue to teach remotely, the agreements state.
"We appreciate working with PAEA to provide certainty for our teachers, students, and families in key areas of distance learning," Superintendent Don Austin said. "We enter this year with clear common schedules, increased synchronous interaction, assignment of traditional grades, daily attendance, and a well-trained staff."
The district has not yet reached tentative agreement with its classified employees union, "although we are very close," Austin said. By Friday afternoon, the district released a tentative agreement with the California School Employees Association (CSEA).
The school board will discuss the tentative teachers union agreements at a meeting this Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 6:30 p.m.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.