Supt. Austin: “We’re going to stay open”

Brennen Ho and Daniel Garepis-Holland

Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin said last week that although he doesn’t intend to close schools, he recognized that COVID-19 conditions could rapidly change and a virus spike could occur. “We’re in a great spot right now,” Austin said. “I don’t take that for granted, it could change at any time.” Photo: Anushe Irani

Schools in Palo Alto will almost certainly stay open for in-person learning for the foreseeable future, according to Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin.

In an interview with The Paly Voice last week, Austin said that the district will be able to remain open as long as proper procedures can continue to be followed.

“The idea is that you [the district] can manage quarantine [measures],” Austin said. “As long as we’re able to manage quarantines, we’re going to stay open.”

PAUSD, in cooperation with county and state health officials, has developed a detailed protocol for responding to possible cases of COVID-19 among students. According to the district’s website, symptomatic students will be tested immediately by staff at the school, and will temporarily quarantine until they receive a negative test result. 

In the case of a positive test, the student will be required to isolate for 10 days, including a 24-hour period without symptoms, before they will be able to return to school. Close contacts will be notified and given instructions to test and/or quarantine.

According to Austin, the updated protocols are designed to minimize interruption to learning among both vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

“Are you vaccinated? If the answer is yes, you’re done, you’re still back here — checking for symptoms,” Austin said. “If you’re in elementary … or middle school, the whole class has to get tested, but you don’t miss a day of school. We do the test … but you get to keep coming to school.”

Austin also said that PAUSD has exceeded expectations, with only two cases of COVID-19 between both PAUSD high schools.

“On our first couple weeks of school, between our two high schools, we have had two cases,” Austin said. “One staff member at one school, and one student at another. That’s all we’ve had. That’s a really good sign for us.”

Austin added that he wanted to avoid another shutdown in order to prevent setting a new precedent for closures.

“I don’t see us closing, partly because last time we closed for a couple of weeks, it was a year and a half,” Austin said. “I just don’t want to take that chance again. As soon as you close, that sets a new threshold for when you close.”