District unveils tentative school reopening plans

Dylan Fu and Ria Pai

Plans for reopening Palo Alto Unified School District schools may be on the horizon, according to a presentation given by Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Sharon Ofek at Tuesday’s virtual Board of Education meeting.

Ofek discussed the three working plans the district has for reopening schools depending on the situation in the fall.

“Looking to the fall, we have three possibilities and three options for what might happen,” Ofek said. “Schools could open in full distance learning mode, in a blended learning or modified format of some sort, or with no restrictions, but we are almost certain that [no restrictions] is not the one that’s going to come out just based on news around the world.”

According to Supt. Don Austin, the exact details regarding how the school will open remain uncertain. 

“Not only do we not know how we’re going to open, we have no idea how many times we are going to click back between fully open, fully closed, and blended,” Austin said. 

For the “fully closed” and “blended” options, the presentation included working drafts of the daily schedules for these two alternative modes. 

The potential schedule for secondary school fully remote learning featured school days with four periods, each one hour and 15 minutes long from Monday to Friday, with Wednesday reserved for independent work time for teachers and students. 

For the blended schedule, the district is considering separating the student body of secondary schools into two groups, with groups alternating each day between being on campus and learning online and Wedsday being fully online. 

Following the presentation, various school board and community members expressed thoughts and worries regarding the plans.

Board member and Vice President Shounak Dharap expressed concern regarding the instructional minutes provided by the plans outlined in the presentation.

“There are a couple of options being presented, but I would like to know how much time is a cohort of students going to spend receiving instruction, because it seems like we will be splitting up students in some manner and there’s potential that students be receiving less than the full amount of instruction overall,” Dharap said. 

Some students also expressed worries about the effects that splitting up the student body might have.

“What I’m wondering is if we’ll still be able to hang out with our school friends if the student body is being split into two to fit in with social distancing guidelines,” freshman Josh Wilde said.

Nevertheless, according to Austin, the plan shown during this presentation is still in its nascent stages, and that there would be time to address the concerns of community members and refine what already exists.

“I would imagine that, before we’re done, we are going to revise this draft plan quite a bit, just grinding away and trying to come up with something that serves the needs of students.” Austin said.