BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Palo Alto school board voted unanimously last night (Sept. 29) to a reopening plan that will return students to the classroom for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak closed schools in mid-March.
The plan is to have kids in kindergarten and first-grade come back Oct. 12, second- and third-graders return on Oct. 26 and fourth- and fifth-graders come back Nov. 9. Middle and high schoolers won’t return until next semester.
Parents can keep their kids in remote learning if they want.
The two student representatives on the board voted against the plan but their votes are symbolic and have no legal weight.
Many teachers spoke against reopening at the meeting because they say they don’t feel safe returning to the classroom.
Paly teacher Sheri Mulroe said the school board shouldn’t force teachers to go back to school in person when the board is still meeting virtually over Zoom.
A number of parents had complaints about the reopening plan. One complaint that came up multiple times is that the district is asking elementary school parents to commit to either remote or in-person learning for the year.
Nate Blair said the reopening plan is a colossal failure of leadership. He said parents shouldn’t be forced to commit when the reopening plan is still half-baked.
Roxanne Patel said she wants to be allowed to revisit her choice about her child’s schooling in January.
Other parents are upset that kids will be reshuffled into new groups when the in-person learning starts.
Greg Brail said he doesn’t care if his second-grader learns remotely or in-person as long as the child gets to stay with the same teacher and classmates.
Board member Jennifer DiBrienza asked Superintendent Don Austin if the district will try to keep kids with the same teachers or at least in the same school.
Austin said he will meet with the nine elementary school principals tomorrow (Thursday) to create cohorts for in-person and remote learning. He said they will try to keep as many kids with the same teachers as possible, but it won’t be possible in every case.
Under the current plan, kindergarteners will come to school every day, but half the kids will only come in the morning while the other half only comes in the afternoon.
Older elementary students will be broken up so half the kids come Monday and Tuesday while the other half come Thursday and Friday. Everyone will attend class on Zoom on Wednesday.
Classes such as music, PE and art, which are normally taught to kids in different classes by one teacher, will take place over Zoom on days kids are at home. Only kindergarteners will get these classes in person.
Kids will have two or three live classes on two of the days they are at home. Other classes will be asynchronous, meaning kids learn the material on their own.
Student representative Thomas Li said he voted against the plan in part because he is concerned that kids will have to spend some of their time in asynchronous learning. He said he isn’t sure there will be enough support for elementary school kids trying to learn without a teacher to help them in real-time.
The meeting was held on the Zoom platform, and some parents who called in told the board they wanted to plan approved so kids can start going back on campus.
Ryan Elliot said remote learning has been a disaster for his son. He said the board has support in reopening from many parents who are afraid to speak out because it is such a politically divided issue.
Kids and teachers will have to wear masks at school. Lunch and recess times will be staggered.
Assistant Superintendent Anne Brown said playgrounds will be sectioned off so kids in different cohorts play apart from each other.
The principals of each school will designate entrance and entry points for each classroom to try and prevent large groups. Parents won’t be allowed on campus and will have to stay in their cars during drop-off.