For small groups of Palo Alto students, class is in — in person

Campuses reopen for high-need students

Students and staff in Palo Alto Unified's Futures program sit at socially distanced tables in a classroom at Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto on Sept. 11. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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For small groups of Palo Alto students, class is in — in person

Campuses reopen for high-need students

Students and staff in Palo Alto Unified's Futures program sit at socially distanced tables in a classroom at Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto on Sept. 11. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The library was dark, the cafeteria was closed and the hallways were eerily quiet, but it was still back to school in person last week for small groups of Palo Alto Unified School District students.

The school district reopened some campuses for the first time since March to serve students who have been identified as struggling academically or needing quiet, supportive places to learn, as well as some students with disabilities.

In one Fletcher Middle School classroom, five students sat quietly at socially distanced desks on computers with masks and headphones on. Before entering the classroom, each of them had lined up to be screened by a nurse who asked if they live with or have had contact with anyone who's tested positive for the coronavirus or if they've had symptoms themselves. Instead of back-to-school-night flyers, QR codes for health screenings were posted at the front office.

The students are provided with breakfast, which they eat outside with their cohorts at picnic tables and benches marked with blue tape to remind them to keep 6 feet apart. The hallways are decorated with illustrated handwashing reminders and the water fountains are wrapped in plastic.

As part of the district's new PAUSD+ program for high-need students, each middle and high school campus is housing one or two cohorts, with no more than two supervising adults for each group. Fletcher, for example, is currently serving 15 middle school students in two cohorts. Out of the 91 students who the district invited to participate in PAUSD+, 33 attended on the first day, according to the district. By the end of the week there were 44 students enrolled, with more to be added soon, according to the district.

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Though the program only started this week, teachers already said they're seeing some students that they hadn't regularly seen when school started in late August, Fletcher Principal Melissa Howell said.

"We heard from teachers that participation has increased," she said. "That was our ultimate goal."

Schools that are not yet allowed to fully reopen given local public health conditions are now permitted to serve small groups of students in person. In late August, the California Department of Public Health issued guidance permitting schools to reopen to serve students with "acute" needs, including students with disabilities, English learners, students at higher risk of further learning loss or not participating in distance learning, students at risk of abuse or neglect, foster youth and students who are homeless.

Across town at Cubberley Community Center, another classroom was back in action on Friday morning. Four adult students in the district's Futures program for postsecondary students with moderate to severe disabilities worked on a range of vocational and tactile activities, with masked aides guiding them. (Three of the four students wore masks.)

Sydney Abraha, who is blind, worked on separating pom-poms from erasers, sitting under a large, red poster board that was created for her during distance learning. The board is divided into three sections — places, activities and people — with felt cutouts decorated with objects to communicate and guide her day, such as lunch (the top of a plastic fork) and Zoom class (a raised "Z"). She was nearing the lunch hour when she'd make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for herself in a temporary kitchen at Cubberley.

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On the other side of the classroom, another student, Joshua Van Riese, was engrossed in putting erasers on pencils and placing the finished products into a container.

They are among the first special-education students to return to school in person since an in-person summer program that had to close early after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in July that schools in counties being monitored by the state for high coronavirus metrics couldn't be open in person. Many parents of students with disabilities, worried their children have fallen behind during distance learning, have been clamoring for face-to-face support. Several special education teachers, meanwhile, urged the school board this week to take a more cautious, "conservative" approach, citing their concerns about the health and safety risks.

"It's best for them to be back," Futures teacher Coleman Hall said on Friday. The students, despite often having behavioral issues, have been calm since returning to school this week, he added.

Teacher Coleman Hall helps Sydney Abraham, a blind postsecondary student in Palo Alto Unified's Futures program, sort through pom-poms and erasers at Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto on Sept. 11. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

He was busy planning numerous activities that underscore the importance of in-person learning for these students, including grocery shopping, use of public transportation and hiking — all geared toward helping the students become "as independent as possible." Hall said.

There are 21 postsecondary students now attending school in person, according to the district.

The school district has not yet announced a date for when more special-education students can return in person, but it will be this month, Superintendent Don Austin said. The district is continuing to negotiate working conditions related to special education with the teachers union, with three bargaining sessions in the last week.

All of the in-person programs must adhere to the state Public Health Department's guidelines, including stable cohorts of 14 or fewer students who stay together for all activities and physical distancing "balanced with developmental and socio‐emotional needs of the age group."

Judy Argumedo, the district's director of academic support programs, said she wasn't surprised to hear students were more engaged in online learning while back at their schools in a more structured environment.

"I think physically just being on the campus puts you in the mindset: You walk on the campus and you're expected to be engaged," she said. "School is such a wraparound, protective service that I don't think people in general understood everything that school provides — even the building" itself.

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

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For small groups of Palo Alto students, class is in — in person

Campuses reopen for high-need students

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Sep 11, 2020, 7:44 pm

The library was dark, the cafeteria was closed and the hallways were eerily quiet, but it was still back to school in person last week for small groups of Palo Alto Unified School District students.

The school district reopened some campuses for the first time since March to serve students who have been identified as struggling academically or needing quiet, supportive places to learn, as well as some students with disabilities.

In one Fletcher Middle School classroom, five students sat quietly at socially distanced desks on computers with masks and headphones on. Before entering the classroom, each of them had lined up to be screened by a nurse who asked if they live with or have had contact with anyone who's tested positive for the coronavirus or if they've had symptoms themselves. Instead of back-to-school-night flyers, QR codes for health screenings were posted at the front office.

The students are provided with breakfast, which they eat outside with their cohorts at picnic tables and benches marked with blue tape to remind them to keep 6 feet apart. The hallways are decorated with illustrated handwashing reminders and the water fountains are wrapped in plastic.

As part of the district's new PAUSD+ program for high-need students, each middle and high school campus is housing one or two cohorts, with no more than two supervising adults for each group. Fletcher, for example, is currently serving 15 middle school students in two cohorts. Out of the 91 students who the district invited to participate in PAUSD+, 33 attended on the first day, according to the district. By the end of the week there were 44 students enrolled, with more to be added soon, according to the district.

Though the program only started this week, teachers already said they're seeing some students that they hadn't regularly seen when school started in late August, Fletcher Principal Melissa Howell said.

"We heard from teachers that participation has increased," she said. "That was our ultimate goal."

Schools that are not yet allowed to fully reopen given local public health conditions are now permitted to serve small groups of students in person. In late August, the California Department of Public Health issued guidance permitting schools to reopen to serve students with "acute" needs, including students with disabilities, English learners, students at higher risk of further learning loss or not participating in distance learning, students at risk of abuse or neglect, foster youth and students who are homeless.

Across town at Cubberley Community Center, another classroom was back in action on Friday morning. Four adult students in the district's Futures program for postsecondary students with moderate to severe disabilities worked on a range of vocational and tactile activities, with masked aides guiding them. (Three of the four students wore masks.)

Sydney Abraha, who is blind, worked on separating pom-poms from erasers, sitting under a large, red poster board that was created for her during distance learning. The board is divided into three sections — places, activities and people — with felt cutouts decorated with objects to communicate and guide her day, such as lunch (the top of a plastic fork) and Zoom class (a raised "Z"). She was nearing the lunch hour when she'd make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for herself in a temporary kitchen at Cubberley.

On the other side of the classroom, another student, Joshua Van Riese, was engrossed in putting erasers on pencils and placing the finished products into a container.

They are among the first special-education students to return to school in person since an in-person summer program that had to close early after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in July that schools in counties being monitored by the state for high coronavirus metrics couldn't be open in person. Many parents of students with disabilities, worried their children have fallen behind during distance learning, have been clamoring for face-to-face support. Several special education teachers, meanwhile, urged the school board this week to take a more cautious, "conservative" approach, citing their concerns about the health and safety risks.

"It's best for them to be back," Futures teacher Coleman Hall said on Friday. The students, despite often having behavioral issues, have been calm since returning to school this week, he added.

He was busy planning numerous activities that underscore the importance of in-person learning for these students, including grocery shopping, use of public transportation and hiking — all geared toward helping the students become "as independent as possible." Hall said.

There are 21 postsecondary students now attending school in person, according to the district.

The school district has not yet announced a date for when more special-education students can return in person, but it will be this month, Superintendent Don Austin said. The district is continuing to negotiate working conditions related to special education with the teachers union, with three bargaining sessions in the last week.

All of the in-person programs must adhere to the state Public Health Department's guidelines, including stable cohorts of 14 or fewer students who stay together for all activities and physical distancing "balanced with developmental and socio‐emotional needs of the age group."

Judy Argumedo, the district's director of academic support programs, said she wasn't surprised to hear students were more engaged in online learning while back at their schools in a more structured environment.

"I think physically just being on the campus puts you in the mindset: You walk on the campus and you're expected to be engaged," she said. "School is such a wraparound, protective service that I don't think people in general understood everything that school provides — even the building" itself.

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

Comments

Bob
Registered user
Ventura
on Sep 12, 2020 at 6:38 pm
Bob, Ventura
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 6:38 pm
22 people like this

Two PAUSD day care centers on elementary school campuses have had kids test positive over the past few weeks. There has been ZERO notification to any of the parents or PAUSD staff who have regularly been working on site. This is a disgrace. Look at what LAUSD is doing with their contact tracing and testing, with help from, wait for it... STANFORD! Our superintendent Don Austin is an ABSOLUTE JOKE! His approach? “Don’t worry we got this”.


Concerned Community Member
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 12, 2020 at 7:28 pm
Concerned Community Member, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 7:28 pm
11 people like this

If you look at two of the pictures (the first and last ones in the article) 1 person doesn't have a mask, one person has one around his neck, and one has it below her nose. There are 6 people in the two pictures and half are not properly wearing masks, none are socially distance, there are no face shields and no barriers. How is this a safe environment for hours on end? I would not send my child to school with this lack of adherence to safety. I have heard 5 or 6 people, including children, on the campuses have tested positive for COVID but I have only heard this from other people, not the district. Not surprised the district isn't informing the community, because we might actually push for them not to open in person. Hopefully, they are informing their employees.


Paly Teacher
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Sep 12, 2020 at 8:57 pm
Paly Teacher, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 8:57 pm
39 people like this

@Concerned Community Member: If I’m not mistaken, those three people who aren’t wearing masks properly are students and because they’re in the Futures program, they’re students with special needs. If they aren’t able to wear one properly, they don’t have to (page 16, Web Link). “How is this a safe environment for hours on end? I would not send my child to school with this lack of adherence to safety.” I don’t think it’s very safe for the staff members working with them which is why I commend their effort. Do you think two thousand students and staff members intermingling between classrooms is safe? If not, I hope you’ll speak up against school reopening whether you hear about actual positive cases. “There are 6 people in the two pictures and half are not properly wearing masks, none are socially distance, there are no face shields and no barriers.” I mean, these students have special needs…staff members wouldn’t work so closely unless the students needed them to.

@Bob: “There has been ZERO notification to any of the parents or PAUSD staff who have regularly been working on site.” Did you speak to all of the parents and staff member who are part of these sites? I’m guessing no. Did you see actual positive results or were you told about them, i.e., are your casting stones like “disgrace” and “ABSOLUTE JOKE” based on hearsay? I’m really curious because if the district really is hiding something, I’d like to know. But if they’re not and they’re taking unwarranted heat based on unsubstantiated claims, then they should be defended.


Bob
Registered user
Ventura
on Sep 12, 2020 at 9:00 pm
Bob, Ventura
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 9:00 pm
8 people like this

@paly teacher, I know of at least two cases, confirmed. I know staff that works at these sites and they have told me they received zero email or any other form of notification that there were positive tests. They had to see that the doors of the daycare were closed and ask around to find out what happened.


Bob
Registered user
Ventura
on Sep 12, 2020 at 9:08 pm
Bob, Ventura
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 9:08 pm
8 people like this

@paly teacher and I forgot to mention the daycare kids and staff share the same entrances, hallways, and bathrooms as all site staff.


Infuriating!
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 12, 2020 at 10:23 pm
Infuriating!, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 10:23 pm
16 people like this

We return kids to school and then have media ENTER the classrooms to take pictures!!!! This is so upsetting. This article and the Mercury News article make one thing clear- Reopening was never about the students but instead about the superintendent’s ego! How dare he do this to these families! He is adding additional unneeded risk for nothing other than ego. This is beyond infuriating.


Educating the most at-risk students
Registered user
Gunn High School
on Sep 13, 2020 at 1:50 am
Educating the most at-risk students, Gunn High School
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2020 at 1:50 am
22 people like this

No need to point fingers. Reopening schools for small cohorts has nothing to do with ego, and everything to do with educating the most at-risk students, and the law.

"Compliance with CDC’s recommendations should not create civil rights concerns. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) prohibits disability discrimination by schools receiving federal financial assistance...Once school resumes, the school must return to providing special education and related services to students with disabilities in accordance with the student’s IEP or, for students entitled to FAPE under Section 504" Web Link

"The California Department of Public Health on Tuesday published rules for opening school campuses to small numbers of students with disabilities and other students who need in-person support and services that can’t be met through distance learning."
Web Link

Masks and face coverings are required EXCEPT "Anyone with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that does not allow them to wear a mask" Web Link

Now that PAUSD is open for in-person instruction, the time has come to know and follow Safety Protocols, including third parties on school grounds. It's what we all want. Web Link


Infuriating!
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2020 at 9:11 am
Infuriating!, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2020 at 9:11 am
7 people like this

Thanks for responding Dr Austin-
There is no law stating media should come into classes to take pictures. Increasing our families risks and possible exposure to flaunt the choices you are making is only about ego. Fingers are pointed at you as you are the one making these choices. This is unacceptable.


Jonathan Brown
Registered user
Ventura
on Sep 14, 2020 at 12:12 pm
Jonathan Brown, Ventura
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 12:12 pm
19 people like this

The implication here is that all of our students would be on track to return to in-person learning following all relevant safety protocols if it weren't for opposition by the teachers' union. If that implication is untrue, then the teachers' union needs to make a clear statement on what its true position is. Everyone deserves the best education, not just students with special needs. We're in the red tier now. If we're not going back in October, we need a clear explanation about why not and we need to know the criteria for when in-person learning would be resumed. We also owe it to everyone to keep careful records of whether anyone who's resuming in-person teaching or learning now has contracted COVID-19 as a result of that interaction (rather than acquiring it elsewhere). Has there been one documented case of COVID-19 caused by this in-person learning/teaching? If we're not keeping this data, it's just lip service to say we're "following the science."


Bob
Registered user
Ventura
on Sep 14, 2020 at 6:39 pm
Bob, Ventura
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 6:39 pm
7 people like this

Why is PAUSD doing the bare minimum when it comes to their approach? Sure they might be “following” guidelines, and actually at times not providing PPE or enforcing an actual 6ft social distance, but wouldn’t we want our high achieving district to EXCEED guidelines? Isn’t that why you guys pay the big bucks to be here? Los Angeles Unified is testing EVERY SINGLE STUDENT AND STAFF MEMBER, and they are a much bigger district, making that task even harder to tackle.

Lots of “fingers crossed” in PAUSD leadership right now.


No standing out
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Sep 14, 2020 at 7:19 pm
No standing out, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 7:19 pm
5 people like this

Austin said that PAUSD would not move to in-person classes unless other surrounding districts were doing it as well. "We will not be going alone, I can tell you that much." I think it is driven in large part by a desire to avoid litigation. PAUSD is going a different route now than it has in the past, with a significant change in direction happening under the cover of COVID. Some students and teachers are relieved by the new direction and the focus on equity over exceptionalism, while others are horrified and leaving. The refusal to be more proactive on COVID is just one aspect of that larger shift in direction.


Facts and Figures
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2020 at 3:00 pm
Facts and Figures, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 3:00 pm
10 people like this

@Bob

Run for School Board in 2 years. Please.

We need more critical thinkers and practical people on the School Board.

Does this current Board ever say NO to Don Austin? What are they doing then?

--no $ cuts to admin salaries in a recession when we need $ for PPE
--no infrastructure fixes to schools so kids and staff can go back more safely
--no transparency about their DUTY to return to live instruction and provide distance learning to whoever wants it


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