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COVID: Palo Alto Unified Asks Parents to Volunteer to Help Keep Schools Open

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) -- Schools throughout the Bay Area are facing staffing challenges as COVID cases continue to rise, but Palo Alto Unified is putting out a call to parents to help bridge the gap and keep schools open.

The district launched 1 Palo Alto, a call to action asking parents to volunteer to pitch in at schools. Since launching the effort, Palo Alto Unified's Superintendent Don Austin says the district has gotten a pretty great response.

"In 20 minutes we had 50 volunteers. By the next morning we had 350, and today – really just barely into the day – we have 670," said Austin. "There's never been anything in my career that's been more energizing or inspiring. It's a win at a time when everybody seems to be losing."

The superintendent also posted a video on YouTube about the district's appeal to parents over the weekend.

Call to action: 1 Palo Alto by Palo Alto Unified School District on YouTube

He says one of their biggest challenges remains staffing classrooms with teachers, but they're committed to staying open with the help of parents.

"It's part of the Palo Alto culture to have parents volunteer and community support for the schools," said Raluca Perkins, who volunteers in the library at her daughters' school.

Parents can choose to do light custodial work like emptying trash cans and wiping desks, monitoring lunch lines or helping teachers in their classrooms.

"While a volunteer cannot serve in the substitute role, they can allow us to combine classes and have enough adults in there to supervise and to still provide help," explained Austin.

He says volunteering parents need to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask, but they won't go through a background check.

"They do not have to go through a background check, they do not need to be fingerprinted because they are not alone with students," said Austin. "That won't happen with any of our volunteers. They'll be partnered or in areas with no one-on-one student contact."

Some parents expressed reservations about keeping schools open will cases skyrocket across the Bay Area.

"I've got to be honest in the fact that I'm scared," said parent Raeline Tanaka.

But Tanaka, who plans to continue to volunteer in her children's school, said she remains convinced that in-person learning is the best option.

"Seeing the kids thrive and be able to be with other kids, I feel like the Superintendent's plan to keep the schools open but make sure there is support is a good one," she said.

The hope is that the district won't have to shut down in-person learning during the omicron variant fueled increase in COVID cases.

"For us we can say now we are going to be open. We have it covered," said Austin. "There is nothing short of a state or county mandate or order that will shut us down. And if they do that they better be ready for a fight too. We are staying open."

More information on the district's volunteer plan is available on the PAUSD website.

Devin Fehely contributed to this story.

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