School districts consider reopening classrooms in coming school year

Educators, staff, students, and parents are turning their collective attention to the month of August, now that the school year turned upside down by COVID-19 is over. Many wonder what shape public learning will take.

Palo Alto Unified School District officials are exploring a return to campus for some students in August. Superintendent Don Austin is meeting with school board members Tuesday night to fine tune possibilities.

Educators will "consider proposals that reflect our belief that the most important element of school is the connection between students and teachers," he said in an email. "Everyone learned that those connections are not powerfully replicated through distance learning.”

A memorandum of understanding between the district and teachers union calls for in-school learning for elementary school students, said Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association.

“Teachers in the district are definitely eager to return to school as normal. But with the pandemic, normal is going to be hard to replicate,” said Baldwin. 

One of the negotiation points between the district and union is designing a curriculum for students whose parents keep them at home.

“It’s just really trying in a way that’s going to work best for students, but keep everybody safe and healthy,” said Baldwin.

Vallejo City Unified School District officials are considering similar steps, according to Superintendent Adam Clark. 

“The only equitable way for us to deliver an education is that those students need to come back to us for more time, not less time," Clark said. 

He and other educators said safety protocols such as face coverings, and social distancing would be in place. But experts warn even with those precautions, there could be problems.

“Returning to the old way, if possible, is a very appealing option. But it’s just not going to be possible for a large percentage of the community. And to the extent it is possible, it could endanger everyone,” said Rebecca Eisenberg, an education attorney based in Palo Alto.

Two major variables at play affect the shape of the next school year. The first is the budget. Many school districts will learn how much money they have to work with July 1. The second variable is if COVID-19 makes a resurgence.