On Tuesday night—following hours of discussion among board members and over 60 mostly critical comments from community members—the PAUSD school board unanimously voted to approve the district’s reopening plan, allowing elementary schools to begin hybrid instruction starting on Oct. 12.
The vote came on the heels of a significant number of concerns voiced by teachers and parents. One Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA) questionnaire completed by over 80% of all elementary school teachers reported that 90% of the teachers surveyed felt uncomfortable returning to in-person instruction, according to PAEA President Teri Baldwin. However, by the end of the night, Board Member Todd Collins noted that 443 of the 1283 kindergarten through first grade families in the district had already voted to go towards hybrid learning.
For many of the board members, the vote came down to whether or not they believed an in-person return would be safe. “The assurance of staff that all safety measures will be implemented by Oct. 12, as they apply to the [kindergarten and first graders] and again before the next wave of students comes in, is good enough for me,” Board Member Shounak Dharap said.
Gunn Student Board Representative Thomas Li remained wary of the effectiveness of asynchronous learning in elementary schools. “The work will fall on parents to support their students while offline,” he said. “Are we really expecting elementary students to work for 260 minutes without instruction?”
Li, whose preferential vote carries no weight, ended up voting against the plan, citing the inherent safety risk for students and teachers. “At this point, it’s not a question of if we can prevent any cases,” he said. “It’s really a question of how many cases are going to occur. I think it’s highly unlikely that we are going to end this school year or even this semester with zero positive cases among staff and students.”
English teacher Kate Zavack echoed Li’s viewpoints during the open forum. “Why are we being rushed when we’re not ready?” she said. “We need safety, we need continuity and we need transparency.”
According to the board, pre-kindergarten through first grade parents will have until 5 p.m. tomorrow evening to decide if they would like to opt their students into hybrid learning. Parents that do not fill out the form will default to distance learning.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more details become available.