Along with the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) board member Jesse Ladomirak and School Board Representative Thomas Li, school administrators Wendy Stratton, Michalis Gordon, Harvey Newland and Leonel Argumedo answered student questions about the new reopening plan at the town hall meeting on Thursday night.
Superintendent Don Austin’s reopening plan was first introduced at the Feb. 9 PAUSD board meeting, but is contingent on Santa Clara County being in the red tier of California’s COVID-19 tracking system for at least five days. If carried out, the plan would allow students to choose whether they would like to return on campus two days a week.
According to Assistant Principal Michalis Gordon, the opt-in and opt-out system will offer students with last names beginning with A through K the option of attending school in-person on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while the remainder of students will be able to choose to attend school in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. During the day, students will move between classrooms; however, classes will still be held on Zoom.
Principal Wendy Stratton emphasized that in-person attendance is voluntary, but whether a student’s decision must be made for the entire week or just the day is still undecided. Ladomirak, too, highlighted the voluntary aspect of the plan. “I cannot stress enough that this is a personal choice for every student,” Ladomirak said. “Every student has different needs.”
While the master schedule will not change, students are required to stay on campus during the school day. Stratton confirmed that students leaving campus for the day would not be able to return except for sports practices and other after-school activities.
Students that have a prep during the day (periods 2, 3 or 6) are required to remain in a designated space on campus during their prep; students with preps at the beginning or end of the day (periods 1, 4, 5 and 7) are allowed to arrive at the start of their first class or leave early. Gunn Together and SELF will alternate between Wednesdays and Fridays each week so that students will have an opportunity to attend SELF in-person if they choose to. In between classes, students will be asked to walk in designated directions and maintain all social distancing protocols.
According to Assistant Principal Leonel Argumedo, PAUSD has implemented a variety of safety precautions for both students and staff during this reopening. “There’s been a lot done to ensure everyone’s safety on campus,” Argumedo said.
Each morning, students, teachers and staff will be required to fill out a health screening questionnaire to ensure that they have not been experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or been in contact with people that have been. In addition, desks with plexiglass dividers will be assigned and be spaced six feet apart. Each class will also have upgraded HVAC systems or air purifiers, hand sanitizer and a variety of masks. Furthermore, starting on Feb. 28, teachers who live or work in Santa Clara County can make an appointment to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
In the event that a student or staff member contracts COVID-19, PAUSD has a 3-scenario plan. If a student or staff member presents symptoms of COVID-19 or answers “yes” to any of the questions in the daily health screener, they will be sent home and asked to be tested. Classroom instruction will continue for the remainder of students. If someone (like a family member) in close contact with a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the student or staff member will be sent home and asked to be tested. Even if they test negative, they will still be required to quarantine at home for 14 days or until the infected person completes their quarantine to prevent any future infection. If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they will be sent home and asked to quarantine for 14 days or seven days after symptoms have disappeared. Any school-based close contacts will be notified, instructed to get tested and asked to quarantine. Both the school administration and the public health department will be notified.
To enforce these protocols, there will be at least three supervisors and teachers on campus during breaks to monitor student behavior; however, Gordon stressed the ultimate responsibility fell to the students to adhere to guidelines. “We are going to rely on you, the student body, to enforce these protocols you know and for you to set the example for those who might forget to wear [their] mask when we quickly step out of the classroom,” Gordon said.