Palo Alto Unified welcomes some students back into classrooms

Palo Alto Unified School District took another step toward returning to normalcy. On Monday, in-person learning began again for some students, for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak last spring.
It’s been more than six months in the making, but finally, Palo Alto students and their families were able to experience a school day that felt almost like normal. 
“The kids are obviously happy to go back. They need to see their friends. Start playing again,” said parent Paulo Rojas as he walked his daughter, Camila, to Addison Elementary School.
In August, the Palo Alto Unified School District board approved a phased reintroduction to in-person learning. Last month, special education students returned to some of the 19 campuses. And on Oct. 12, half of the transitional kindergarten and 1st graders got to return.
“I saw a lot of excitement today for parents and kids, lining up for their first day of school,” said PAUSD superintendent Dr. Don Austin. 
He said only 50% of students will do in-person learning, but they’ll alternate days. So on any given day, only one-quarter of the normal amount of students will attend. The district has nearly 12,000 students in total.
Still, the teacher’s union said it’s members wanted to wait until next year before resuming in-person learning. Concerns over COVID mixing with the onset of flu season are major motivators.
“The concern that young students are actually spreading this virus. Contracting and spreading this virus a lot. More than they thought,” said Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association. “This could affect their health in the long-term is a scary thing.
District officials said cleaning and disinfecting protocols are in place to mitigate the potential spread and everyone must wear a mask. Partitions separate desks and students are broken into groups of six to 10.
“We’ve had zero student cases at this point, in the district including our childcare,” said Austin.
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s website shows the daily average number of cases is steadily declining since mid-July. Currently, there are 99 new infections per day down from 269.
Officials say this next round reintroducing in-person learning has proceeded without problems, to the relief and parents, educators, and students.
“There’s a lot of rules. But it’s still better than being on-line. There are lots of problems being online,” said Camila Rojas, an Addison Elementary School student.
District officials said parents who don’t feel comfortable with in-person instruction can continue with distance learning. So far half are continuing on that track.
The phased reintroduction of in-person continues in two weeks when third and fourth graders return to campus.