During a special meeting on Thursday, the Palo Alto school board approved a contract that will outsource distance learning for the upcoming school year to Stride Learning Solutions, a provider of customized online curriculum for K-12 students.
District Superintendent Don Austin said that using a private vendor to teach students who are uncomfortable returning to campus will help the district teachers focus more time on serving students in the classroom.
"We want our teachers to teach," he said. "And quit doing things that we're not built to do."
Turning to Stride will help the district satisfy the stipulations in a recent state bill that was passed, SB 130, in light of the pandemic. In the bill, the state requires school districts to provide students with an "independent study program," or remote learning option, for anyone who feels they're at medical risk inside the classroom.
The bill outlines several expectations of the study program; however, it does not specify who needs to teach the remote classes.
In addition, Austin posed the online school provider as a solution for parents who say their students cannot wear a mask.
It "is for anyone that feels their health is at risk, and there's no criteria beyond that," Austin said in a previous interview. "There is no preexisting health condition requirement; there's no documentation-of-health-issues requirement; and now, although I don't believe it's written in the guidelines, if somebody is opposed to wearing a mask, that can be a reason."
Stride, however, will not replace the district's Home and Hospital Instruction, a state-mandated instructional program for students who must be hospitalized or have a severe medical condition, Austin said. As opposed to Home and Hospital Instruction, students who want to use Stride will not have to provide proof of medical risk. SB 130 states that parents and guardians can make that determination.
During the meeting, the superintendent reassured that Stride understands the high expectations of the district and that the online learning provider should be sufficient for those who opt to stick with distance learning. One of the reasons the district chose Stride was because its teachers are all certified by California, he said.
But for parents wondering how much Stride can replace the quality of education the district offers, Austin delivered a blunt message on Thursday: It won't.
"If you moved here for PAUSD schools, then no supplement, nothing other than PAUSD teachers and schools, is going to be PAUSD level. ... The best instructional program is PAUSD period."
The board on Thursday also approved the adoption of a few temporary policy changes to align with another pandemic-related state bill, AB 104, that was signed into law earlier this month.
To support students whose grades may have suffered in the previous academic year, the state requires all schools to allow parents to request a change in a letter grade a student received in the 2020-21 year to pass/no pass, or under Palo Alto Unified's system, credit/no credit. Families have until Aug. 15 to apply for the grade change.
The state also requires the California State University system and "encourages" the University of California system and private institutions to accept the letter grade changes "without prejudice."
In addition, high school students who were in their third or fourth year in the 2020-21 year, and are not on track to graduate based on the district's 220-credit requirement, may be able to graduate using the state's minimum 130-credit requirements instead.
Students eligible for this exemption will be contacted by the district.