Editorial: We can do better. The school board should vote “no” on reopening elementary schools.

Given both the disproportionately large number of elementary school teachers reluctant to return to campus and the safety concerns surrounding reopening campuses, The Oracle urges the school board to vote tomorrow against reopening all school campuses until it is safe.

This editorial comes in response to the school board meeting on Sept. 22, when board members discussed plans to reopen elementary school campuses for in-person learning on Oct. 12. The current reopening plan is designed to have kindergarten and first grade classes resume in-person learning on Oct. 12, second and third grade classes return on Oct. 26, followed by fourth and fifth grade classes returning on Nov. 9.

During the board meeting, over 100 community members, the majority of whom opposed the plan, publicly offered comments deriding the plan as unsafe and ill-conceived; one speaker went as far as to say that board members would “have blood on [their] hands” if schools were to reopen.

The Oracle shares community members’ views over reopening.

One speaker went as far as to say that board members would “have blood on [their] hands” if schools were to reopen.”

The way in which the board has addressed decisions around reopening has been wholly unacceptable. More than four hours into the Sept. 22 board meeting, at 11 p.m.—without warning and after initially claiming there would be no vote on the plan that day—board member Ken Dauber called for an immediate vote on the reopening plan, saying that “if there was any doubt that we were going to actually adopt this plan, it might make sense to wait and have another discussion—but we’re going to adopt this plan.” Luckily, other board members delayed the vote until tomorrow’s meeting—but literal life-and-death decisions should not be made in the middle of the night.

Literal life-and-death decisions should not be made in the middle of the night.”

Evidence suggests there is indeed doubt from teachers and parents over adopting such a plan. For one, staff have conveyed concerns regarding the safety of both themselves and students if the plan were to move forward. In a Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA) survey completed by 84% of all elementary school teachers, 83% of respondents stated they did not feel comfortable returning. Furthermore, in another PAEA survey completed by 82% of all Special Educators, 82% of respondents stated they did not feel comfortable returning. Teachers comprise the bulk of PAUSD operations; failing to include their voices when it comes to reopening is an egregious mistake.

As for parent input, the district cites that over 60% of parents surveyed indicated support for resuming in-person instruction. However, the district-led survey merely asked parents if they would be comfortable reopening provided that PAUSD followed county health guidelines, making no mention of the district’s actual reopening plan. In contrast, a community-initiated survey completed by over 435 PAUSD parents found that 93.3% of them preferred delaying reopenings until the current plan was revised. The community response is clear: don’t reopen schools.

Teachers comprise the bulk of PAUSD operations; failing to include their voices when it comes to reopening is an egregious mistake.”

The Oracle also has concerns regarding the details of returning to campuses. How will elementary schoolers be discouraged from swapping masks? Who is in charge of enforcing mask usage and social distancing? The district’s current roadmap has guidelines in place for what happens if a student tests positive for COVID-19, but has no clear answers to the above questions. Resuming in-person learning in the middle of an unabating pandemic will be a complex—if not ill-advised—undertaking, and a lack of details in the district’s reopening plan does little to inspire confidence.

The bottom line is this: reopening schools in October will introduce the risk of students, staff and community members contracting COVID-19. Should there be an outbreak, not only will children get sick, but we run the very real risk of placing the lives of older citizens in danger through community spread of disease.

To board members Todd Collins, Shounak Dharap, Melissa Baten Caswell, Ken Dauber and Jennifer DiBrienza: the board cannot and should not vote to reopen elementary schools at this time. Doing so would disregard teachers’ voices and execute a precipitous course of action with far-ranging consequences.

We can do better.

—Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the staff (assenting: 22; dissenting: 1; abstaining: 0).