Student board representatives weigh in on secondary school reopening plan

Arohi Bhattacharya and Ori Gal

Student Board Representatives Medha Atla and Thomas Li of Palo Alto High School and Gunn High School, say they are optimistic about the proposed reopening plan presented Feb. 9. by Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin.

Student Board Representative Medha Atla of Palo Alto High School reacts positively to the secondary school reopening proposal, presented during a board meeting on Feb. 9. by PAUSD Superintendent Don Austin. Atla said the flexibility of the plan is a huge advantage to students. “I think the beauty of this plan is that students can choose the day of whether they want to go to school or not,” Atla said. “It’s completely up to you, whether you feel safe, whether you want to go, it’s your choice.” Photo: Arohi Bhattacharya

Seniors Atla and Li expressed their enthusiasm over a Zoom interview for the new plan, which gives students the flexibility to choose whether they want to attend that day in-person or remotely the morning of.

“I was very excited about it [Austin’s announcement of the reopening plan],” Atla said. “I thought it was great because they had negotiated with the teacher’s union [Memorandum of Understanding agreed to in the fall] and it was very enticing.”

According to Paly Principal Brent Kline via a Schoology message, students can return on campus for two days per week starting as early as March 9. Li said compared to the previous reopening plan, this plan may be more desirable to students because of its flexibility and ease.

“I do think that this is better than the previous plan because first of all, you’re not changing course schedules or teachers, and I think that was a concern that many students had,” Li said. “This is definitely an opportunity for students to come on campus to get to know their teachers and also see their classmates.”

One concern Atla said she has with the plan is the high vulnerability of students and teachers because the plan does not include keeping students in cohorts, which the previous plan entailed. She said she fears the risk might escalate if a student gets, or is in contact with someone with, COVID-19.

“There aren’t going to be cohorts, so the exposure that teachers and peers will have in person is going to be pretty high,” Atla said.

Li said there is still much to be done with the plan in terms of being finalized, but progress is being made to implement it in early March, according to Kline’s message. Li sees events such as the Paly Fishbowl on Thursday and the Gunn Town Hall as helpful opportunities for discussing the reopening plan with other peers and teachers.

“One big thing about the plan is that right now there’s still a ways to go in terms of inspiring confidence in the plan,” Li said. “In terms of how both teachers and students feel about it, there is still some work that could be done. What I want to see is admin talking with students and teachers, like the Fishbowl at Paly and the Town Hall at Gunn, and I think those are good steps in that direction.”