As Santa Clara County moves into the state's most restrictive tier, Palo Alto's elementary schools will remain open but worsening coronavirus trends could mean the middle and high schools won't reopen in January as planned.
Schools that reopened when counties were in a less restrictive tier do not have to close, according to the state.
In a message to families and staff on Monday, Superintendent Don Austin emphasized that the local spike in cases is outside of Palo Alto and that the elementary schools are permitted to continue in-person instruction. In-person instruction for small groups of special education and struggling students at the secondary schools will also continue.
"We will follow California's localized solution to measure the spread of illness in our schools and determine when a school or district closure is required. Our elementary schools have demonstrated an ability to follow rules, maintain distancing, and operate within cohorts," he wrote.
Austin told the Weekly that he hasn't yet received any guidance from the county. If Santa Clara County doesn't move out of the purple tier before second semester begins, he will recommend that middle and high schoolers continue with distance learning — which will ultimately be subject to a vote by the school board.
The district is still asking secondary school families to make their decision between distance learning or a hybrid in-person model for second semester by Wednesday, Nov. 18.
"I understand there will be many questions," Austin wrote in his message. "I will be in contact with the agencies who guide us and will provide updates throughout the week."
Opposition to reopening remains strong among teachers. Gunn High School's English, social studies and special education departments signed a Nov. 13 open letter to the board and Austin urging them to reconsider reopening, arguing the district's plan is "pedagogically unsound" and "does a disservice to our students and exacerbates inequity." Nearly 80 Palo Alto High School teachers and staff signed their own letter in support of the Gunn teachers.
Moving into the purple tier means cases are "widespread" and requires closing indoor dining as well as all indoor activities associated with gyms, museums, zoos and aquariums, places of worship and movie theaters. Shopping malls and all retail establishments must reduce to a maximum capacity of 25%.
Under state guidelines, if the county moves back into the red tier, secondary schools can open after two weeks.