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Parents Question Plan For In-Person Classes In Open Letter To Palo Alto School District

PALO ALTO (KPIX) - In advance of Tuesday's vote by the Palo Alto Unified School District to resume in-person classes, district leaders have received an open letter signed by hundreds of parents, and also the results of a new parent-led survey.

Last week, momentum appeared to building amongst board members to approve a hybrid model that allowed for a phased-in approach to bringing students back to campus. The district cited a parent poll that seemed to show strong parent support.

Since then, some parents have pushed back against the district's poll.

"They're showing us a plan that's two to three days with the teachers, two to three days on your own, asynchronous. And that's information that was not given with the survey," said parent Ben Patton. "I think it was misleading and that it didn't really include information about the plan. It does feel like they haven't really gotten honest feedback from parents."

Patton helped organize the parent-led survey, with around than 400 respondents. The organizers only had access to several hundred parent email addresses, out of the nearly 12,000 students in Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD).

When asked 'Would you rather the school delay reopening until the plan is advised, 93 percent responded 'yes'.

On a scale of 1 to 5, 77 percent answered '5', signifying it was 'More important current classes and teachers stay together'.

Patton said if families choose distance learning, keeping their current virtual teacher would not be guaranteed.

"The problem is the two options they're giving us are both a step back from what we have today," said Patton. "We're making a gamble. Are we going to get to keep our teacher if we go to hybrid? Are we going to get to keep our teacher in distance learning? And the district can't tell us one way or another."

"I would just ask to slow down. I think there's a lot of good ideas out there, a lot of good energy. People are willing to work with the district to make this happen, to make a positive step forward. So incorporate the feedback before you make a decision," said Patton.

A total of 394 parents signed the open letter, that stated in part, "parents are being pushed with very limited time and information to make a yearlong decision about our children's health and education."

In an email to KPIX 5, Superintendent Don Austin did not directly address the findings of the new parent-led survey. But Austin responded to some of the assertions in the open letter.

"A recent open letter asserted that we had not adequately notified staff or families that delaying a decision-point until after school started may impact class rosters and teaching assignments at a later point in time. While it is our intention to make every effort to minimize disruptions, the information below shows at least twelve instances when the topic was explicitly explained. This does not count PTA meetings, negotiations notes, email responses, or informal discussions. All principals are convening on September 30 to make every effort to maintain continuity to the degree possible," wrote Austin.

Austin also referenced ongoing discussions with the Palo Alto Educators Association.

"There is a misconception that PAUSD and our unions are fighting. We have agreement on every single issue, with one minor exception that we will likely resolve on Monday. The PAEA president has advocated for her teachers and worked collaboratively with our leadership. Even today, we spent time informally working through issues as we have for the past several years together. Their position is that they would like a delayed return. We disagree on that point and I am not sure either side has aspirations of shifting the pre-opening thinking of the other. Absent the disagreement on a return date, we see very little disagreement between parties," wrote Austin.

The District's plan continues to evolve. Current changes being considered:

  • 1st to 5th grade will begin with a live Zoom morning meeting, for both at-home, and in-class.
  • Special classes (PE, music, library) will be taught live on Zoom to students on "at home" days.
  • Students will have 2-3 live lessons per day, on two of the at-home days.
  • Parent James Ehrlich says PAUSD has been "disingenuous" in its dealings with parents.

    "As you can tell, they're still baking a plan. The plan is not baked. And as they continue to to jigger the plan, we're saying, 'Hold off. Don't rush back to school.' A number of parents are basically getting ready to pool our resources, and file an injunction. And potentially further action, including a recall campaign against the board," said Ehrlich. "They work for us. They have to be responsive to our needs as a community. And who has to come first? The children's health and safety, teachers health and safety, staff health and safety. Full stop."

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