School probably won’t be normal next fall, superintendent says

The Ventura Community Center at 3990 Ventura Court was an elementary school until 1989 when it was closed due to declining enrollment in the Palo Alto Unified School District. The district is now considering whether ask the city to give back the former school. File photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

School is unlikely to return next fall as normal, Palo Alto Superintendent Don Austin said yesterday during a Webinar.

He said district officials started brainstorming with principals yesterday about what re-opening the schools might look like in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and the social distancing restrictions that followed.

The district might use a blend of in-person and online learning. Austin said the quality of a student’s education would be reduced if the district operated entirely online next fall.

The county has proposed coming back with social distancing and Gov. Gavin Newsom has suggested only having 12 kids in a classroom, but Austin said it will be hard to implement those requirements.

Austin said it might be possible to maintain space between fourth and fifth graders, but it will be harder for younger kids.

Telling 5-year-olds that they can’t get near their friends or share balls or touch things would be “craziness,” said Austin.

He said thinking that there are simple solutions for the resuming school demonstrates a lack of understanding of the challenges schools face.

The district is trying to figure out how to bring back performing arts and sports.

“Those are the things that we are working on right now, trying to say how can we open a school district back up that resembles anything we love about a school district,” Austin said.

Austin said the district also has to go through a bargaining process with its unions on any changes.

Trying to get more space to spread students out is one route the district is considering.

Austin said schools might try to convert more space into classrooms. He said the district is also interested in getting the former Ventura Elementary School at 3990 Ventura Court back from the city and using more space at the Cubberley Community Center at 4000 Middlefield Road.

The city rents 27 acres at Cubberley from the district and sublets it to a number of nonprofits. The city is considering ending the Cubberley lease. Austin said he thinks that is unlikely to happen but if it did the district would lose $5.4 million a year.


  1. We need to be fiscally responsible and serve our students. Both

    1. The District does not have the money to spend on more space.

    2. At the high school level, we haven’t even tried synchronous learning. How can the Superintendent speak to its quality? For Gunn and Paly, we should start trying to optimize real online learning now. Allow high school teachers to have interactive live classrooms on a fixed bell schedule.

    3. For those of you who don’t know, there is no bell schedule for high school students. Mostly they read and do posted materials and watch videos. A Facebook parent survey is showing most Palo Alto high school (Gunn and Paly) students are receiving fewer than 3 hours of live interactive instruction per week. The District has not conducted a survey.

    4. Realize Palo Alto that many children have parents or adults who are vulnerable. Also teachers may be vulnerable. Fewer children are vulnerable themselves. But there are vulnerable children. We do not know all the vulnerabilities, but diabetes is one that children have. We must have a system that can serve everyone well and that does not drain the coffers.

  2. “Austin said the district also has to go through a bargaining process with its unions on any changes.”

    So will the MOU with the teacher’s union, rather than input from the community, taxpayers, parents and students, dictate grading policy again, and include that no lectures can be recorded without the teacher’s assent, and include no evaluations for teachers related to distance learning?

    Will real distance instruction be provided in the fall rather than the current ill conceived hodgepodge PAUSD has now?

    • The “ill conceived hodgepodge” is what most school districts on the peninsula are using. Please go complain to the counties if you want to change that as PAUSD is following their state and county guidelines.

  3. Students have underlying health conditions; so do family members; so do teachers and district staff. Some students won’t be able to physically attend school; neither will some staff, unless they want to risk their health. 6 feet is not enough, per studies about how far sneeze and cough droplets travel. Some sneeze droplets traveled over 20 feet. And PAUSD won’t protect anyone – they refused to supervise the bathrooms when vaping set off so many fire alarms at Paly – compromising instructional time. Do we really think they’re going to wipe down the desks and all surfaces after each class? Not. Do we really think PAUSD is going to monitor students between class periods to enforce social distancing? No, they won’t. So it’ll be a free for all, with students passing this contagious disease back and forth among themselves and staff. Just a sneeze or cough or even talking releases droplets into the air, which can be inhaled, or land on desks or surfaces for the next person to touch. Thus students and staff will potentially be exposed, risking themselves, staff, and risking the students’ family members, though they may be asymptomatic. PAUSD has to provide distance learning for those at risk, along with regular school if they reopen, but given the job they’ve done so far with distance learning, they should just forget it — and facilitate students going out and getting their own from actual, real online learning providers, distance charters, WASC accredited online platforms, other, who are committed to helping students progress academically. According to parents, while some teachers are trying, most HS students aren’t getting much instruction from their teacher, whether live or recorded. The HS students are teaching themselves via teacher assignments. That’s not instruction. Yet our property taxes, which pay for PAUSD and its staff were still fully due and on time.

  4. Pausd can do better than an ill conceived hodgepodge. $20k/student/year for little instruction, and lots of excuses. Thanks to the teachers who are providing instruction.

    Private sector employees have had to adjust. Private schools have managed too…

    • Again, many of the private schools are also using a “hodgepodge.” They are making adjustments as they go and no one is doing this perfectly.

  5. @MIddle School Parent,
    PAUSD has no accountability the the SCCOE. I checked.
    At the high school level, PAUSD is not actually following State guidelines for delivering distance learning. The problem is they are guidelines, not standards / rules. Unfortunately Governor Newsom and Tony Thurmond gave an instructional minute waiver with no requirement that the State guidelines be followed. Then our Board did not ask the Administration to deliver according to the guidelines.

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