News

Elementary schools to reopen five days a week in April

Superintendent: Grades 3-5 to return on April 19, then K-2 on April 26

Herbert Hoover Elementary School Principal Jim Sherman watches first graders on the playground at the school in Palo Alto on Oct. 12, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

For the first time in a year, Palo Alto Unified elementary school students will be able to return to school five days a week in person starting in April, Superintendent Don Austin announced on Tuesday evening.

His announcement followed several critical changes driving school reopenings. Santa Clara County moved into the state's orange tier of public health restrictions on Tuesday. The California Department of Public Health adopted over the weekend new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that halved the recommended spacing between masked students in classrooms from 6 to 3 feet, allowing schools to increase capacity. And in the district, 90% of employees are either fully vaccinated or have received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot, Austin said.

Third through fifth graders will return first on April 19 and kindergarten through second graders on April 26. This only applies to students who are already attending school for hybrid learning. Students in full distance learning will continue taking classes remotely for the rest of the school year. A handful of elementary classrooms have since February been piloting a five-days-a-week model.

Principals and the teachers union requested that the upper elementary students shift to five days a week first, before the younger students, Austin said at Tuesday's school board meeting. No student schedules will change except for kindergarten classes, he said.

Austin said the vaccination rate among employees is a "big change in conditions and part of the reason we're waiting until the 19th to come back fully."

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Sixth graders are already back at school four days a week. Reopening plans won't change yet for seventh and eighth graders and high school students, Austin said. Some high school parents of students learning over Zoom from classrooms have voiced concern that they are among very small numbers of students on the campuses.

Currently, about 600 students each are at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools each week, Austin said. He anticipates more students will be interested in coming back to school after spring break and in light of the county moving into the less-restrictive orange tier.

During the school board meeting, several parents urged the district to also reopen the middle and high schools five days a week.

Austin promised further details about the change in reopening plans in a written message this Thursday or Friday.

The principals of Palo Alto and Gunn high schools also announced Tuesday that, with Santa Clara County in the orange tier, they will again be open campuses starting this Wednesday, March 24. This means students will be allowed to leave campus during prep periods and lunch.

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The leaders of the teachers and classified unions urged the community to continue to adhere to public health restrictions, even as coronavirus rates improve and restrictions loosen.

"I just want to emphasize how important it is that we all continue to remain vigilant in all of our safety measures so that we keep our students safe, so that we keep our staff safe," California School Employees Association President Meb Steiner said during the school board meeting. "We have all wanted to bring our kids back. Nobody in our district … (has) wanted to be gone from school, but we have always wanted to do it safely."

The board, which is again meeting in person, also discussed creating a virtual learning program for next school year. In a survey, 7.6% of families indicated they would be interested in a fully remote model for the 2021-22 school year. But board members said they're hesitant to ask staff to invest time and resources in creating an entirely new, standalone online school program until they have more concrete information on what families want and need next year. They suggested instead expanding existing models within the schools, such as blended learning, independent study programs and community college options, for students who might need more flexibility.

"There's a way to innovate and serve some students better than honestly they were before the pandemic," said board member Jesse Ladomirak.

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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Elementary schools to reopen five days a week in April

Superintendent: Grades 3-5 to return on April 19, then K-2 on April 26

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Mar 23, 2021, 8:11 pm

For the first time in a year, Palo Alto Unified elementary school students will be able to return to school five days a week in person starting in April, Superintendent Don Austin announced on Tuesday evening.

His announcement followed several critical changes driving school reopenings. Santa Clara County moved into the state's orange tier of public health restrictions on Tuesday. The California Department of Public Health adopted over the weekend new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that halved the recommended spacing between masked students in classrooms from 6 to 3 feet, allowing schools to increase capacity. And in the district, 90% of employees are either fully vaccinated or have received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot, Austin said.

Third through fifth graders will return first on April 19 and kindergarten through second graders on April 26. This only applies to students who are already attending school for hybrid learning. Students in full distance learning will continue taking classes remotely for the rest of the school year. A handful of elementary classrooms have since February been piloting a five-days-a-week model.

Principals and the teachers union requested that the upper elementary students shift to five days a week first, before the younger students, Austin said at Tuesday's school board meeting. No student schedules will change except for kindergarten classes, he said.

Austin said the vaccination rate among employees is a "big change in conditions and part of the reason we're waiting until the 19th to come back fully."

Sixth graders are already back at school four days a week. Reopening plans won't change yet for seventh and eighth graders and high school students, Austin said. Some high school parents of students learning over Zoom from classrooms have voiced concern that they are among very small numbers of students on the campuses.

Currently, about 600 students each are at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools each week, Austin said. He anticipates more students will be interested in coming back to school after spring break and in light of the county moving into the less-restrictive orange tier.

During the school board meeting, several parents urged the district to also reopen the middle and high schools five days a week.

Austin promised further details about the change in reopening plans in a written message this Thursday or Friday.

The principals of Palo Alto and Gunn high schools also announced Tuesday that, with Santa Clara County in the orange tier, they will again be open campuses starting this Wednesday, March 24. This means students will be allowed to leave campus during prep periods and lunch.

The leaders of the teachers and classified unions urged the community to continue to adhere to public health restrictions, even as coronavirus rates improve and restrictions loosen.

"I just want to emphasize how important it is that we all continue to remain vigilant in all of our safety measures so that we keep our students safe, so that we keep our staff safe," California School Employees Association President Meb Steiner said during the school board meeting. "We have all wanted to bring our kids back. Nobody in our district … (has) wanted to be gone from school, but we have always wanted to do it safely."

The board, which is again meeting in person, also discussed creating a virtual learning program for next school year. In a survey, 7.6% of families indicated they would be interested in a fully remote model for the 2021-22 school year. But board members said they're hesitant to ask staff to invest time and resources in creating an entirely new, standalone online school program until they have more concrete information on what families want and need next year. They suggested instead expanding existing models within the schools, such as blended learning, independent study programs and community college options, for students who might need more flexibility.

"There's a way to innovate and serve some students better than honestly they were before the pandemic," said board member Jesse Ladomirak.

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

Facts please!
Registered user
Green Acres
on Mar 24, 2021 at 10:06 am
Facts please!, Green Acres
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 10:06 am

An immense THANK YOU to the Board, Don Austin, and the teachers for making this happen! My kids are elated! We are fortunate to have a board that puts kids first!


DON AUSTIN HAS A SPINE
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 24, 2021 at 10:57 am
DON AUSTIN HAS A SPINE, Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 10:57 am

Secondary students NEED to go back in-person for their SEL development, but vast majority are NOT going in-person because very few of their peers are attending in-person.

MUST DO:
1) make attendance mandatory like in Mill Valley (can opt out with valid excuse)
2) let teachers instruct students directly (versus zooming from class) - there’s no incentive to see teacher in person if they are zooming in the classroom


Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2021 at 11:15 am
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 11:15 am

Actually article is incorrect. The dates for returning to school are as follows:
April 19th- HYBRID grades 3rd -5th will return to on-campus instruction;
April 26th- HYBRID grades K-2 will return to on-campus instruction;

There will be no changes to Full Distance Learners (FDL)/Remote.

So only a portion of elementary students will return to on-campus instruction and it will not be until April 26th before all grades are on campus (K to 5).


Chris C.
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 24, 2021 at 11:32 am
Chris C., Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 11:32 am

Correction to the correction: 3-5 hybrid will return April 19 *or earlier*, and K-2 hybrid will return April 26 *or earlier*. (As I understand the date is to be determined depending on the logistics of each school site.)


Carolyn
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 24, 2021 at 3:18 pm
Carolyn, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 3:18 pm

Why can elementary students who have been fully remote since March 2020, not return to school in April if they wish to?


Curious Parent
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 24, 2021 at 3:28 pm
Curious Parent, Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 3:28 pm

Does anyone know why high schools can't open up for full time in-person (instead of the current 2 days/week) for those kids who want it? I've heard there are currently only 2-4 kids in each classroom.


Educator
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 24, 2021 at 5:04 pm
Educator, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 5:04 pm

Very frustrating that parents were forced to choose in September and some are stuck in distance learning for the rest of the year, when kids in the hybrid model get to come back full time.

Time to bring back the full distance kids, too. Every elementary family I’ve spoken to in full distance regrets their choice, though it was the best or safest choice at the time for their family.


Why not distance learners?
Registered user
Hoover School
on Mar 24, 2021 at 8:13 pm
Why not distance learners?, Hoover School
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 8:13 pm

This does not make sense at all. Distance learners should get a chance too.
Families who chose distance learning definitely hoped to get back to school as soon as the situation improves. Who would want to be stuck at home even with the improved COVID situation?


Concerned Parent
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Mar 24, 2021 at 8:48 pm
Concerned Parent, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 8:48 pm

It is absolutely disgraceful that students who opted for full distance learning (FDL) way back in October are not now being given the option to return to school full-time in person now that the parameters have changed. At the time, yes, we were told the decision would be binding, and that the options were either full distance learning or hybrid. Please note, we were also told that the option was binding for hybrid students and that this would be their learning option for the full year. There was no possible option mooted at the time of hybrid changing to full-time in-person learning at a later stage in the year. FDL children are now being punished for a decision taken in October when the situation was very different. Now teachers are vaccinated and CDC guidance has changed significantly. It is extremely unjust and unfair that FDL children are not even being given the option for full-time in-person instruction. The mental health and well-being of children in FDL is not being taken into account at all, which is disgraceful. Don Austin has abandoned families who chose this option. But he will spin it for the media that Palo Alto has opened for five-day in-person learning when he has neglected to cater for a huge cohort of his students. Honestly, it's despicable.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2021 at 9:52 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2021 at 9:52 pm

With upcoming Spring vacation, sounds like there’s little left of the school year.
Did teachers (term used: “educators” is vague - expanded to include Zoom tutors, outdoor swim TAs, other people on Zoom, etc....)
well, did huge educators cohort need to rush to be vaccinated if they’ll hardly be in person until next Fall? It’s terribly confusing as to what’s occurred so far and remainder of this school year.
There’s some of us in early sixties who’ve been prevented from being vaccinated (unless Solano or Contra Costa Countues, very recently, LATER than most states) because CA teachers unions demanded Governor Newsom prioritize them.
With main teacher age cohort far younger than 50+, note clearly risk of Covid illness, hospitalization is related to AGE, and not just for 65+. Interesting the choices made by our politicians in a time of scarce vaccines.
Contrast with Florida public schools? I believe those have been open. Also some private schools certainly have been open around here w/o teachers having first been vaccinated, though I think only at elementary level? Families moved away from here in order for their kids to attend schools- did any fall ill? Obviously we wish for all to be vaccinated ASAP, just know there are some of us remaining sheltered while you travel confidently on your Spring Break soon.


Fresh Air - why not outdoors?
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 25, 2021 at 11:00 am
Fresh Air - why not outdoors?, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 25, 2021 at 11:00 am

Congratulations are in order for returning to five days a week for the hybrid elementary students. We can’t ignore the needs of the FDL students who made the binding decision last summer when a vaccination wasn’t even on the horizon. Our second grader has an IEP and receives support over zoom and has a wonderful teacher. His mother can’t work because she is his “other” aid. Our grandson is missing social interaction greatly - has no real friends - is lonely and often shutting down. It’s been over a year and he needs some direct contact with his teacher. his specialists, and other children. While Dr Austin and others celebrate the full reopening - let’s not forget the other children.


S_mom
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 25, 2021 at 1:35 pm
S_mom, Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 25, 2021 at 1:35 pm

I feel badly for distance learning families, although of course the messaging was pretty clear that it was for the year. And I thought it was always on the table that choosing hybrid meant choosing in-person, and that it could end up full time at some point depending on conditions.

I'm curious for those in distance learning who want the chance to go back in person now -- do you have ideas for how that could happen without redoing the classes/teachers again? Or are you thinking they should redo the classes again? That seems like too much disruption too late in the year to me.

Maybe they could poll the distance classrooms and if all the parents from an individual class agreed to go in person they could make the switch (assuming the teacher is vaccinated and doesn't have any particular circumstances making in person impossible)? I'm guessing there would be few to no distance classrooms where everyone would agree though...

My understanding is that they already gave the option for kids to switch in person to the extent there was space in each school's in-person classrooms (each school has different class sizes for in-person classrooms depending on how the choices worked out in each school). Maybe they could be flexible about schools, like if a distance learning student was willing to be in person at a non-home school that had space? Or I guess if they could find more teachers they could create a few new in person classrooms and offer to let distance learners switch into those new classrooms?

None of these sound ideal or easy, and it's almost the end of the year, so I think I can see why they aren't changing things for full distance learning families. Wondering if anyone else has other ideas that would make it more feasible?


Come on!
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2021 at 8:35 pm
Come on!, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Mar 25, 2021 at 8:35 pm

While I get the frustration, a lot of these commenters don’t know how a school district runs. People who chose FDL were told that it was for the year.

How do y’all expect the school district to suddenly change the program, find new teachers, and make this work all of the sudden. There is even a commenter who wants the whole FDL cohort to return. How is that respecting families who chose and still want FDL? How is that respectful to the hard working teachers who have changed their practice over night and are doing a mighty fine job with this terrible hand that we’ve all been dealt?

I am not saying that the current program is optimal (especially secondary), but these comments show that some in this community want what they want when they want it, even if it wasn’t what they wanted yesterday, full stop.


Fresh Air - why not outdoors?
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 25, 2021 at 9:21 pm
Fresh Air - why not outdoors?, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 25, 2021 at 9:21 pm

I’m not necessarily looking for our FDL to return fulltime to school. Yes, we did sign up and yes we were told it was binding. However his mental health and emotional needs just aren’t being met. Is it so much to ask that FDL children have opportunities to build friendships. Why can’t Dr Austin and the board think outside the box and provide some support? If it were your child, wouldn’t you want to look out for these students too?


Infuriating!
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2021 at 6:46 pm
Infuriating!, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Mar 26, 2021 at 6:46 pm

FDL parents- when everyone learns that PE and music will be streamed into the classroom of 20+ students, I think you’ll be relieved. What could go wrong? 20+ kids at “3 feet” distancing all singing and doing PE inside a small classroom that is STREAMED in.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2021 at 12:04 am
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

“Austin said the vaccination rate among employees is a "big change in conditions and part of the reason we're waiting until the 19th to come back fully."
For everyone that begrudged teachers their prioritized vaccinations, this quote from Austin is EXACTLY why the Biden administration moved teachers to group 1B. Now that the boss knows that his staff is vaccinated he has immediately given the push for school staff to return in person five days a week. Never mind that the director of the CDC stated yesterday “feelings of impending doom” regarding the trajectory of the pandemic and that new variants that may be more vaccine resistant are currently spreading across the United States. So if you were angry at the teachers for so called “cutting the line” for vaccinations, it really didn’t do the teachers that much of a favor. They will be forced to return during a potential 4th deadly wave of the pandemic, and although the vaccinations will likely cover them, it’s not a guarantee with the potentially vaccine resistant variants.
Also, it’s comical that Austin cited the vaccines when he irresponsibly forced unvaccinated staff to work through the dangerous winter wave of the pandemic. I’m so tired of hearing about the board and Austin being brave, having a spine, and putting kids first. They just work in administrative positions and don’t actually put themselves at any risk as far working in person. Please thank the teachers working in person that are being forced to do so by these administrators. I’m sure Austin will also try to herd as many children back into classrooms due to the unsafe 3 foot distancing recommendation by the CDC. If you are a parent or guardian that is not yet vaccinated I would recommend really thinking about the decision of sending your child back to school in April. If you can hold out, I believe August will be much safer. Opening 5 days a week prematurely in April for in person is great news...for the Coronavirus.


Anonymous
Registered user
Barron Park
on Mar 31, 2021 at 8:46 am
Anonymous, Barron Park
Registered user
on Mar 31, 2021 at 8:46 am

So thankful that Don Austin and the board follow the CDC recommendations and other medical/public health professionals recommendations on schools. The vaccines work amazingly well, even against most variants. Teachers, parents and kids will all be fine. The kids need to be in school just as much as teachers need to be provided PPE and vaccines. We can do all these things at once. [Portion removed.]


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