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Palo Alto Unified School District announces a Fall reopening plan


In an email sent to parents on June 30, Superintendent Don Austin announced a reopening proposal for the 2020-21 school year, which entails fall semesters starting with full distance learning for secondary school students and physical learning for elementary schoolers every other day.

The proposal will be considered for approval by the school board on July 3. 

It features several key differences from the distance learning plan implemented in the latter half of second semester this past school year. Secondary students will be assigned grades, extracurricular activities will commence on-campus using social distancing precautions and students will have opportunities to visit campus for small-group interactions.

In his email, Austin wrote that students will also follow a uniform schedule, unlike this past semester.

“All schools and classes will follow an established routine schedule with synchronous components,” Austin wrote.

Such a schedule could mean that secondary students will have mandatory, regularly scheduled Zoom lessons in which attendance will be taken. 

According to Austin, secondary schools will remain online until at least Sept. 11, when a full physical reopening will then be considered on a weekly basis.

Austin said elementary and secondary schools will follow different reopening procedures because of differences in how COVID-19 spreads.

“Secondary students over the age of 13 appear to contract and transmit COVID-19 more closely to adults than their younger counterparts,” Austin wrote.

Austin also wrote that secondary schools are not well-equipped to handle a physical reopening while following CDC guidelines intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Secondary schools are also not structured to support pure cohorts throughout a school day,” Austin wrote. “Spacing and face covering guidelines are more restrictive for secondary schools as a whole. As a result, PAUSD is proposing a start with distance learning and routine opportunities to visit District sites in small groups for targeted activities.”

Austin clarified that online schooling has not yet been mandated by Santa Clara County, and said teachers will help determine times and opportunities for students to interact on campus.

While secondary schools will not be opened in person until Sept. at the earliest, elementary schools will begin the school year alternating between physical and online learning.

“Scientists have indicated that younger students do not contract or spread COVID-19 in the same manner as their older peers,” Austin said. “As a result, safety guidelines suggest distinguishing approaches between elementary and secondary schools.”

After the first elementary trimester, parents will have the ability to choose whether their child will continue to attend school in-person or transition to fully online instruction.

PAUSD will also launch a program called PAUSD+, which will increase access to learning during COVID-19 for students determined to be at a higher risk for poor learning experiences.

“PAUSD+ will serve historically challenged students and provide support and consistency,” Austin wrote.

Austin reminded parents of the unprecedented circumstances and reaffirmed the community’s common goal of “a safe and responsible return to normalcy.”

This is a developing story, and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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