Superintendent Don Austin announces “1 Palo Alto” program to help keep PAUSD schools open

Superintendent Don Austin announced Jan. 9 that PAUSD will stay open despite the community’s growing concern over the Omicron variant, calling for parent volunteers to help fill staffing shortages.

Austin’s video announcement, sent to all PAUSD faculty and families, introduced the district’s new “1 Palo Alto” program which urges any available parents to support the district by helping substitute teachers, sanitizing classrooms and bathrooms, preparing food and assisting in COVID-19 testing clinics.

“The jobs won’t be glamorous — many of the essential jobs we perform every day for your kids aren’t glamorous,” Austin said. “(But) if you’re able, please answer that call; we have opportunities for everyone.”

As of Jan. 10, Austin said the substitute teacher shortage continues to worsen significantly and more than 70 teachers are out from COVID-19, leading PAUSD to implement new measures. 

“We have raised the rate for teachers covering classes on their prep periods from $60 to $100, and teachers are responding,” Austin said. “We also understand teachers are going to get tired, so it is not a long term solution, but in the short term it is working.”

Austin said “1 Palo Alto” is PAUSD’s long term solution, one that has proven initially successful with more than 460 parents signing up to volunteer for the program within one day of Austin’s announcement.

“I’m really excited that so many parents value our school district enough to come forward this quickly, it’s a pretty powerful message for the school district,” Austin said. “The number really makes you sit back and just think about how lucky we all are to be here.”

Teachers and students largely support Austin’s decision to remain open. AP Research teacher Adam Yonkers said that he is in favor of the decision and believes education outweighs some of the concerns staying open has caused.

“We all saw what happened when schools closed, and I think it’s really important to stay open despite the recent surge,” Yonkers said.

Austin said the district has also been working with teachers and support staff to make the experience as safe as possible for everyone involved.

“I really just appreciate the fact that our staff is understanding,” Austin said. “They’re making suggestions for improvements, and we try to do as many of those things as possible.”

In a joint video statement from Santa Clara County’s Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody and Superintendent of Schools Ann Dewan, Cody said the priority for school districts should be finding ways to co-exist with COVID-19 and ensuring students remain in in-person learning. 

“We’ve learned that in-person education is what (students) need,” Cody said. “Remote learning doesn’t support their mental health, emotional health and academic well-being nearly the way that in-person learning does.”

The California Public Health Department’s official guidance says that school districts should “enable all schools to offer and provide full in-person instruction to all students safely…even if pandemic dynamics shift throughout the school year, affected by vaccination rates and the potential emergence of viral variants.” 

In his video announcement, Austin said he will continue to follow and support state guidance throughout the school year, emphasizing that instruction would move online only if required by state guidelines.

“Short of the state of California ordering every school to close, we are staying open — (students) have missed enough school,” Austin said. “Our job is to serve our students, and we can’t do it from home.”