School board concerned students might not be able to get online

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto school board members said at last night’s meeting that they are worried some students will have trouble accessing online lessons because their home doesn’t have enough bandwidth.

The picture that was painted was of a family where the parents are working online from home and the children are online at the same time accessing class materials. The concern is that some families might not have enough bandwidth for everyone.

Schools throughout the country have switched to online learning after classrooms were shuttered to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Santa Clara County Schools are closed until May.

Last night’s meeting was held via video chat over Zoom. Four of the trustees participated from home. Trustee Shounak Dharap was bouncing his baby on his knee during the meeting. Trustee Todd Collins participated from the board room but was more than six feet away from Superintendent Don Austin.

Palo Alto uses the learning platform Schoology for class assignments. Students are allowed to watch instructional videos at their own pace but are expected to turn in assignments on time. Palo Alto students will be graded on a pass/fail basis.

Trustee Ken Dauber said internet connectivity is now analogous to school busses because it is essential for students to attend school. He said he worries that if students from the least well-off families get further behind it will create problems for their future learning. Dauber said he wants to invest money in helping kids get internet.

Trustee Melissa Baten Caswell said the internet is an issue for rich kids as well.

She said even a household with strong internet might lack bandwidth when mom and dad are working from home and all of the kids are doing online education.

Superintendent Austin said the district will invest money where it is needed but is still trying to find the best ways to tackle different problems.

The district has given out 2,000 laptops to students. It is also providing daily meals and is helping some students without the internet to get hotspots.

Trustee Jennifer DiBrienza said Schoology has been slow for her kids. She said the site buffers and sometimes kicks them off. DiBrienza said this is probably because so many students around the country are using it right now.

She raised another concern about students not being in school. She said some teens might experience mental health issues because they are isolated from their friends.

“They are social creatures and it has been a challenge for them to not be able to interact in person,” she said.

The district is providing counseling services over the phone and over video chat.

Baten Caswell asked Austin about plans for graduation, which is supposed to be in June. She suggested the district look at what colleges are doing.

Austin said people are looking into graduation plans, including the possibility of a virtual graduation.

Austin said it’s possible that the state might extend school closures to the end of the academic year. California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said yesterday that he doesn’t think schools will reopen this spring.