Students leaving PAUSD for other options over handling of online school

As the one-year anniversary of PAUSD schools shifting online passes, parents like Natasha Parrett are growing concerned with the way district administrators have handled distance learning and school reopening and have chosen to pull their children out of  PAUSD and put them into private schools, learning pods or even move overseas so they can receive in-person instruction. 

While the sudden switch from in-person classes to online learning last spring left teachers scrambling to transition their curriculum to an online environment, many parents were also left struggling, uncertain and fearful of the quality of education their children might receive during the pandemic. 

Parrett said PAUSD’s response to the pandemic concerned her and said she took this response as a sign to start looking at private schools for her then-fifth grader, who now attends Sacred Heart Preparatory School in Menlo Park. 

“(Since most classes were asynchronous), we felt like there was a lack of teaching during the first part of the pandemic,” Parrett said. “We found a really great opportunity at a really great school, and we took it.”

Parrett also said her family found elements of private school more appealing and a better fit for her son.

“They have smaller classes that allow for more one-on-one interaction between students and teachers which helps the online environment,” Parrett said.

Parrett said these smaller class sizes at Sacred Heart also allow for a safer environment for in-person learning.

“Bigger high school classes at PAUSD have between 35-38 students, and I just don’t know how that will work in regards to COVID safety when we do go back to school,” Parrett said. 

Richa Agarwal, another parent of a former PAUSD student said smaller class sizes are beneficial to students in distance learning and are part of the reason her family switched from PAUSD to private school. Agarwal moved her sixth grader to Priory, a Catholic day and boarding school in Woodside, this year. 

“It’s a smaller school, so it’s easier for them to set up classrooms and for him to get a more engaging school experience,” Agarwal said. “For him, it’s just a better fit, and it depends on the student. He’s being challenged more, and he’s enjoying it.”

Parrett and Agarwal are not alone in their decisions to move their children to private schools. A survey conducted by the National Association of Independent Schools revealed 58% of private schools in America reported a larger than average number of admission inquiries from families whose children previously attended  public schools.  

Some PAUSD families even looked beyond the United States for options. Junior Sebastian Chancellor chose to attend school in Denmark last semester..

“There were just more positives for me in Denmark,” Chancellor said. “They had all in-person learning there because COVID-19 was well contained. I am more of a hands-on learner, and with online learning, I felt like there wouldn’t be as many opportunities for me to participate and engage in class.”

A big part of Chancellor’s decision to move schools had to do with his ability to play basketball in Denmark, he said.

“Since my aspirations are to play basketball in college, Denmark made more sense since I could train with the national team there and still play,” Chancellor said. “I just felt really uncomfortable about the fact that there was no set date for sports to resume at Paly.”

This semester, Chancellor decided to return to Paly with the hopes of a basketball season and to give online learning a chance. 

“At first the transition was really rough,” Chancellor said. “Everything goes at a much slower pace and is pretty disorganized. There’s definitely a lot more stress here that I think is coming from both students and teachers.”

With online learning, Chancellor said he finds himself struggling to find motivation to engage with school and get work done.

He said, “I would definitely like to see more of an effort to try and engage kids more and make some kind of a plan with teachers to make kids feel like they’re not living the same old day over and over again.”

The PAUSD Registration Services office and officials from Woodside Priory School and Sacred Heart Preparatory did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.

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