BREAKING NEWS: PAUSD schools close through May 1 due to COVID-19 concerns


Jocelyn Wang

Due to increasing cases of coronavirus in Santa Clara County, the County Superintendent has required all public schools to remain closed through April 3.

This page will remain updated as more information becomes available. Please watch this story as well as our Instagram, @gunnoracle, for continuous updates throughout this month.

Monday, March 16, 1:40p.m

Following the closure of Santa Clara County public schools on Friday, Bay Area health and administration officials ordered citizens in seven Bay Area counties—Santa Clara County included—to shelter themselves at home in a Monday press conference. “I recognize that this [order] is unprecedented, and if I thought last Friday’s announcement was hard, this one is exponentially harder,” Santa Clara County public health officer Sara Cody said. “We know we need to do this and we know we need a regional approach. We all must do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

According to officials, citizens may leave their residences for activities such as grocery shopping or taking walks outside; however, when outside, citizens must stay at least six feet away from each other. 

Friday, March 13, 8:30p.m.

In a Friday press conference, Santa Clara County health and administration officials announced the imminent and mandatory closure of all public schools from March 16 through April 3. Schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) will not reopen until Monday, April 13 at the earliest due to the prescheduled spring break. 

This move to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus comes after the number of COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County has tripled in the past week, rising to a total of 79 infections. Santa Clara County public health officer Sara Cody cited the ever-increasing spread of COVID-19 as a reason to enact more aggressive measures in slowing the impact of the virus. “We anticipate many, many more cases in the days to come,” she said in a press conference on Friday. 

The lack of physical classrooms and in-person lessons place curriculum at a standstill. For now, all departments plan to release a series of flexible learning options through Schoology and other online platforms by Monday. Each course can provide up to one hour of work or lessons per week, according to principal Kathie Laurence. 

“We are not going to do online learning; we are going to provide some flexible learning options for students,” Laurence said. “When [school] resumes we’ll get back into the swing of things.”

The main goal of such options is to make resources available to students. “The idea of the flexible learning options is to just provide something for kids to remain connected to the subject,” social studies department instructional lead Jeff Patrick said. 

Teachers in the language department hope to keep online content consistent. “I’ve asked the instructors in my department to have things that are based on these four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and [in] three modes: interpersonal, presentational and interpretive,” language department instructional lead Liz Matchett said. “[By] adding vocabulary and culture, the kids would be doing things that they would normally be doing in class.”

Despite the difficulties produced by the sudden change, superintendent Don Austin supported the decision to protect the entire community. “While children have not been shown to be a high-risk group for serious illness from COVID-19, they are still able to transmit the virus to populations who are most vulnerable to serious illness, such as older adults and those with compromised immune systems,” he wrote in an update following the announcement. 

Early changes to prevent this effect involved cancelling all gatherings involving more than 100 people in close proximity, a decision enacted on Monday; affected events included school dances, field trips and large assemblies. All athletic competitions were later suspended by the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League on Thursday. 

Such decisions incited mixed reactions from the community. On Monday evening, a newly-created Facebook messenger group with over 250 student members served as the platform to voice complaints over the postponement—and subsequent cancellation—of prom. More expressed disappointment at the loss of highly-anticipated field trips. 

Others respected the district’s decisions. “I think the district is doing a great job,” choir teacher Bill Liberatore said. “What are they supposed to do? These are huge questions with huge ramifications. And [the district is] being thoughtful; they’re being methodical. They’re not panicking.”

Teachers faced uncertainty prior to the cancellation of school, leaving their next steps unclear. “We’ve been mentally preparing, but not preparing online,” science department instructional lead Laurie Pennington said. “Personally, I haven’t been preparing online because I didn’t know what I would need to do or what the scope was.”

While some students might anticipate settling in for a long break, Austin stressed that the cancellation of schools would only be effective if students refrained from exposure to public settings, including malls, movie theaters and other indoor spaces. He closed with an appreciative message for the community. “We understand that implementing these changes with such limited notice is challenging and may be disruptive; we appreciate your patience and cooperation,” he wrote. “We are grateful to community members throughout our county for their tremendous efforts during these unprecedented times.”