PAUSD drafts plans to offer optional remote instruction in fall 2021

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

The Palo Alto Unified School District has plans in progress to offer remote instruction programs for its K–12 students in the 2021–2022 school year, as discussed at tonight’s board meeting.

District documents clarify that though PAUSD remains “optimistic for a full return to school” in the fall, district personnel drafted the plans in response to 7.6% of PAUSD families who, in a mid-March survey, indicated their continued interest in full distance learning for the next school year.

Superintendent Don Austin also noted that the state of California could continue its requirement of schools offering a distanced learning option. 

These latest plans come as grades 7–12 in PAUSD first returned to campus just two weeks ago for optional in-person instruction under the district’s “Zoom in a room” model.

PLANS

As an expansion of the district’s existing program, students with medical exemptions deeming them unable to attend physical school in the fall will be able to enter the Home Hospital Instruction program. These online courses “may not mirror the breadth of courses offered during in-person instruction,” according to district documents.

Home Hospital Instruction students would not be under the responsibility of PAUSD teachers, and the possibility of adding a third-party vendor to the equation could be explored depending on the number of students to accommodate, according to Associate Superintendent Sharon Ofek. 

The district’s second virtual learning option would rely on using a third-party platform like Edgenuity. Unlike Home Hospital Instruction, students under this schooling format would receive additional oversight from PAUSD teachers. 

Ofek acknowledged that the third and final option — a new virtual learning program developed by the district — would be the most complex on PAUSD’s part, though it would likely offer more customization.

Grades K–5 and 6–12 under this program are currently planned in two separate prototypes, details of which — including specifics about social-emotional learning and support programs — can be found on the meeting agenda along with a preliminary FAQ document.

The document specifies anticipated points of confusion, including the clarification that virtual students will not participate in their in-person school’s activities — and, they’d need to commit to a full year in the distance program upon enrollment. 

While core classes for grades 6–12 would be carried out similarly to PAUSD’s current distance learning model for secondary schools, Ofek also floated the possibility of elective courses utilizing online platforms as well as dual enrollment programs at Foothill and DeAnza colleges. 

At the moment, it is unclear when the Board of Trustees will approve, amend or reject the plans.

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