With the school board's approval, expected on Tuesday night, middle and high school students in the Palo Alto Unified School District will be able to return to their campuses in a hybrid model starting Jan. 7, if they choose to.
The board will vote on a proposed reopening plan for the secondary schools that would bring stable cohorts of 30 to 60 students back for in-person instruction several days a week after they will have been out of school for 10 months.
Campus life will look and feel different than when students were last at school. Students will enter campus at predetermined, designated locations. They won't have access to lockers. Students and employees will be required to wear masks except when eating or drinking. Students will be assigned specific seats at desks, which they'll be expected to clean themselves with alcohol wipes. Grab-and-go food will be available to all students at lunch.
Under the proposal, Tuesdays and Thursdays will be half days and Wednesdays and Fridays full days of school. The school board will consider several possible schedules for different grade levels. Seventh and eighth graders, for example, could be assigned to a cohort of about 45 students with three teachers. They would attend school in the mornings for English language arts, history-social science and science and attend their remaining classes remotely after lunch.
In the event that a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, that entire cohort will return to distance learning for 14 calendar days and unaffected cohorts can continue their education on campus.
Students who stick with distance learning will continue to receive daily live interaction with district teachers and will follow the same bell schedule as those in the hybrid program.
The district is giving families a window — between Nov. 11 and Nov. 18 — to choose between the hybrid model or full distance learning for the rest of the year. The district is warning students that their schedule and/or teachers may change to accommodate each model.
Palo Alto Unified will not be offering livestreaming, despite growing demands from some parents who want the option.
The district "invested heavily in professional learning for both distance and hybrid teaching. These instructional methods will be used as a foundation for both hybrid and distance learning options second semester," a staff report states.
The district expects families who choose the hybrid model will adhere to a Santa Clara County Public Health Department directive that states students receiving in-person instruction in school "may participate in only one program at a time, and may not move from one program to another more than once every three weeks," — meaning students can participate in only one additional activity before or after school to minimize exposure.
To prepare for the reopening of the middle and high schools, the district has already started to evaluate and update if needed classroom filtration systems, according to the staff report. In the next few weeks, the district will begin to put up physical distancing reminders, install desk partitions and other safety precautions.
Each school has received an initial order of personal protective equipment, including disposable masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes, that's expected to last about eight weeks. Schools can request additional PPE as needed from a "large inventory" the district has on hand, the staff report states.
The district is continuing to post weekly any positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff members. Three staff members tested positive in September and one student and one staff member in late October — five total confirmed cases since August.
On the board's consent agenda for Tuesday night is a two-year extension to Superintendent Don Austin's contract. Because it is on consent, that means the board will not discuss it unless one of its members requests to do so. Austin's current contract expires in June 2022; if approved, it would extend until June 30, 2024.
Contract extensions are also on the consent agenda for several top administrators: Associate Superintendent of Education Services Sharon Ofek, Chief Business Officer Carolyn Chow, Assistant Superintendent of Education Services, Elementary Education Anne Brown and Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Student Affairs Lana Conaway.
The school board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov 10. View the agenda here.