Update:Palo Alto Unified School District will cancel many large-scale events including Prom, field trips and all gatherings of over 100 people, as well as postpone California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress testing, according to the March 9 Superintendent’s Update to the district regarding COVID-19. CAASPP testing will be postponed until late April or May and the decision about Prom is pending, according to the Update.
This notice comes as Santa Clara County reported its first death today among 38 confirmed coronavirus cases. Confirmed cases of the disease have reached over 113,000 worldwide, with over 600 cases and 26 deaths in the U.S. The effects of COVID-19 have been widespread, prompting a nationwide lockdown in Italy and causing the largest single-day losses on Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The PAUSD Superintendent’s Update said the district altered its approach to COVID-19 following a new set of recommendations issued March 5 by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
“(The) statements in the press release signaled a change in tone from previous communications by recommending that communities, governments, businesses and schools postpone or cancel mass gatherings and large community events where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another,” Supt. Don Austin said.
However, in accordance with Santa Clara Public Health Department recommendations, school will remain open for the foreseeable future, Austin said.
“The reason we are not recommending school closures at this time is that children have not been shown to be a high-risk group for serious illness from this virus,” the Santa Clara Public Health Department wrote in its March 5 recommendations. “As much as possible, children should be allowed to carry on with their education and normal activities.”
Following recent developments and news regarding the coronavirus, many PAUSD parents have expressed concerns about sending their children to school. A petition posted in a Palo Alto Mom’s Facebook group was initiated around midnight on March 1 on change.org by a PAUSD parent and requested that PAUSD “provide online learning options for students who opt-out to study at home.”
Within a day, the petition gathered around 1,000 signatures from Palo Alto residents. It currently holds around 2000 signatures.
Several public school districts across the U.S. have closed, including Archbishop Riordan High, Lowell High and ICA Cristo Rey High, all part of the San Francisco Unified School District. Additionally, local private schools such as Menlo, Notre Dame, Belmont and Serra have canceled classes. Stanford is one of more than 20 universities to stop face-to-face classes and transition to online classes after a faculty member tested positive for COVID-19 and two students were put in quarantine for possible exposure.
However, PAUSD can’t provide online schooling if school is closed, according to Austin. This also means students who opt to not attend school due to coronavirus concerns will not be provided with online alternatives.
“Please be informed that we do not have the capacity to provide instructional support for well students who stay at home,” Austin said. “If a student has extenuating health circumstances, please contact your site administrator to identify appropriate next steps.”
This story will be updated as new information becomes available.
School officials sent two siblings, one who attends Palo Alto High School and one who attends JLS Middle School, home during school on Feb. 28 after district officials were notified that one of their parents may have been exposed to COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus.
Supt. Don Austin said in an email sent to parents of PAUSD students that the two students and their parents have not shown symptoms of the coronavirus.
“It came to our attention, and the student will be off-site until medically cleared,” Austin said.
In an email sent to Paly staff, Principal Adam Paulson said the Paly student will be quarantined for 14 days.
The Santa Clara County public health department also reported a third case of coronavirus on Feb.28 at 4 p.m.. According to a department press release, the case involves an adult woman who was hospitalized at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View with chronic health conditions and respiratory sickness.
The County held a press conference to address the issue. Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s health officer, said the County does not have significant evidence to prove that the woman’s case is linked to other cases in California.
“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission,” Cody said at the conference. “Now we need to take action to slow down the spread of the disease.”
Austin said he could not confirm whether the PAUSD parent was the woman who the health department held the press conference about.
In a newsletter posted online today by the District, Austin said PAUSD is preparing alternative instruction outside of the classroom in case of a coronavirus outbreak that would require schools to close. In addition, Austin said cleaning crews are scheduled for a deep clean of both Paly and JLS over the weekend.
School nurse Jennifer Kleckner said students should take precautionary measures to prevent all infections.
“I encourage everyone to pay attention to any updated advisories from the CDC and the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health,” Kleckner said. “If you are ill, stay home. Learn to keep your hands away from your face, particularly your mouth, nose, and eyes. Wash your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and wiping your nose, even with a tissue. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Sneeze or cough into your elbow, not into your hand. Use tissues to wipe your nose, not your hands. Get the flu shot. Keep well hydrated, and well-rested.”
Mike Jacobs, Manager of Safety, Security, and Disaster Preparedness confirmed on Feb. 29 that there is no elevated risk to the schools or any individual, including the students in question.