Los Altos Library opens to 50% occupancy, continues expanded contactless pick up

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Following the county’s drop to the orange tier of coronavirus restrictions, the Los Altos Library will continue to expand its in-person services after first opening for lobby service in March.

Effective April 19, all libraries in the Santa Clara County Library District — which includes the Los Altos Library — will be able to host up to 50% occupancy in their buildings, which includes indoor browsing. 

The Woodland Branch Library will open later than other district libraries, due to “its own challenges which are being tackled,” according to Pierre Bedard, chair of the Los Altos Library Commission.

“It is exciting to welcome patrons back into our library spaces,” said County Librarian Jennifer Weeks in a recent press release. “Due to the hard work and flexibility of our staff, the District has provided a wide variety of in-person and virtual library services that evolved along with the changing COVID-19 guidelines.”

Libraries will continue to provide computer and printing services, and patrons will be able to access computers with a variety of installed software including programs from the Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office. 

“This is wonderful news for Santa Clara County Library District patrons!” said Mike Wasserman, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and chair of the Library Joint Powers Authority Board. “It’s encouraging to see more businesses, schools and our libraries able to welcome residents back.”

For the time being, library events will remain virtual. Residents may still make appointments for contactless curbside pickup at this link.

Wednesday, April 7: The Woodland Branch Library was previously listed as opening on the 19th. The Woodland Library will open at a later date.

Roughly half of MVLA student body set to participate in April hybrid return

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Just over half the students at Los Altos and Mountain View high schools have opted into the district’s mid-April hybrid return, indicating widespread interest for in-person learning over a year since the pandemic first forced campuses to close.

On April 19, the 52.1% of district students set to return to campus will participate in four half-days of in-person instruction, switching to four full days a week starting April 26.

Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer noted that while the exact number of students participating in the hybrid return may be subject to slight change as the district further compiles the numbers and some students opt out, district sites will be able to accommodate their in-person learners following coronavirus safety restrictions — including the now-standard 3-foot social distancing permitted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Quite possibly to the chagrin of many late risers across the district, the school day will begin 15 minutes earlier than it currently does in order to accommodate the logistics of in-person instruction, including 20 minute passing periods to sanitize rooms between classes.

The district’s revised bell schedule, effective April 19. (Via Mountain View–Los Altos Unified School District)

Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Teri Faught stressed at today’s board meeting the district’s commitment to providing an equitable learning experience for in-person and remote learners alike — affectionately dubbed “roomies” and “Zoomies.”

“We do not want to create an exclusive environment where these students are separated and no longer have the opportunity to learn together,” Faught said.

Broadly, in-person students will still be on Zoom in the classroom in order to interact with at-home students, although the logistical specifics will be left up to teachers.

Faught also expounded on vague lunchtime guidelines, saying that students will generally be prohibited from leaving campus unlike during a normal year.

“What we see during lunch is that many of our students who can drive will go off campus with their peers, and that’s breaking the social distancing that we have asked for,” Faught said.

But in current plans, students are permitted to leave campus to go home or eat with a parent or guardian — something that was met by confusion from the board of trustees.

“I would love to go off campus, but knowing my peers, you should probably make it more clear cut,” Los Altos High School Student Board Representative Riley Capuano said. “A lot of kids will just skirt around that and leave campus with their friends.”

“I would still like to see a hard and fast rule,” Trustee Phil Fallaice said.

Superintendent Meyer said that she and Faught will revisit the lunchtime restrictions.

The district’s stable groups — students attending remote classes from study halls on campus — are set to meet for the last time tomorrow, after which teachers will begin to return to campus to prepare for the hybrid return later this month.

VIDEO: A look into MVLA’s current in-person learning program

PRODUCED BY KAITLYN HUANG, MIA BASSETT AND CATHRYN KRAJEWSKI, MUSIC BY TOMOKI CHIEN

High schoolers in the Mountain View–Los Altos High School District returned to campuses earlier this month for learning in “stable groups,” participating in remote classes in a study hall supervised by substitute staff.

In April, students across the district are slated to make an optional full hybrid return, where they’ll rotate through classes as in a normal school year for four full days a week.

Here’s a look at the district’s current progress.

Four days in-person, 3-foot social distancing and I.T. upgrades: Here’s what to expect from MVLA’s hybrid return

STORY AND PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN 

Students in the Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District can expect four full days a week of in-person instruction starting April 26, a significant expansion of the district’s previously announced proposal.

The district’s latest schedule, presented at its March 22 board meeting, calls for students to step back on campus for two half-days a week on April 19 where they’ll rotate through classes as in a normal school year, later transitioning on April 26 to four full days on campus. Wednesdays will remain asynchronous.

Families can still choose to remain in distance learning under the district’s Option A model, which the vast majority of students are currently enrolled in, or its self-guided Option B model.

Students that return to campus for the hybrid return will retain their current classes and teachers, participating in the same classes as Option A remote students via Zoom — just in a physical classroom with their teacher.

Also embedded in the plans, which still need to be ironed out in negotiations with the teachers’ union, is the fact that classroom configurations will be based on the 3-foot social distancing standards released by the CDC last week.

Just recently, a handful of students returned to campus for the district’s “stable groups,” participating in remote classes in a study hall setting, supervised by substitute staff.

Bob Fishtrom, director of information technology services, is confident that the district’s networks will be able to support the April hybrid return.

On March 14, the Los Altos High School Talon reported that students in classrooms would have to turn off their cameras in order to ensure stable network connection at school, which teachers in that same report expressed frustration with.

In an interview, Fishtrom said that that’s no longer the case. 

“We ran a test Monday at Mountain View — we had 18 Chromebooks on one wireless hotspot with cameras on and streaming video and we were fine,” Fishtrom said. “I think the challenge that we’re going to have to iron through is how the audio’s going to work. I’m not worried about the video part anymore.”

He added that his team plans to run a similar test at Los Altos next week.

Fishtrom said that he anticipates students and teachers having trouble with audio latency that could cause echoes and feedback during class, which he said is inherent when using a platform such as Zoom. 

To combat that, students should generally keep their microphones muted when not speaking — a practice which school Zoom etiquette already requires regardless. The I.T. department will send out a full list of those best practices later this month after testing for specifics.

“We want to release everything at once and make it simple and clean … so teachers feel like ‘Okay, I’m going to follow these steps in the event that my audio messes up,’” Fishtrom said. 

He warned that the first few days of the hybrid return may be “a little rocky” as teachers and students acclimate to the new environment, but said that he’s spoken to personnel at the Palo Alto Unified School District — which already has high schoolers in full hybrid instruction — to hopefully learn lessons that he can apply to the April return.

“We expect WiFi to be far better than it has ever been, but we also need all staff and students to follow best practices,” he wrote in a later email. “WiFi is a science; we know we’ve made awesome improvements and sometimes when connections are a challenge, it is not necessarily the WiFi.”

Fishtrom also noted that a student’s experience on Zoom using a Chromebook is “far different” than that of a student using a Macbook or Windows machine, given the weaker processor and memory of Chromebooks; he said that he’s looking to purchase Chromebooks with more robust processors and memory to distribute in the future.

Through the pandemic, Fishtrom’s team has taken advantage of empty campuses to complete an extensive round of upgrades to the district’s networking infrastructure, including upgrades to “state-of-the-art” switches to support an increasing number of smart devices, software installed on all devices to protect against another ransomware attack and reconfiguration of switches and WiFi access points for more reliable internet connection.

“We’re here to support, we understand our role — we’re all in this together,” Fishtrom said. “We’re going to do our best to make it work for everybody, and we understand how important it is to put out the best we can.”

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.

MV council moves one step closer to formation of Public Safety Advisory Board

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The Mountain View City Council recommended the appointment of seven civilian community members to the Public Safety Advisory Board during its March 16 study session, the latest development in the city’s effort to streamline police reform. The recommended appointees will be confirmed in a final vote during the council’s April 13 meeting. 

The council’s recommendations include Mountain View residents Cleave Frink, Derek Langton, Joan Brodovsky and Kavita Aiyar for four-year full terms. Eva Tang, Jeannette Wang and Kalwant Sandhu were recommended two-year half terms.

Before voting, council members each gave a brief overview of their personal criteria for candidates, all of which were largely based on the criteria outlined in the study session’s memo. 

“What I was looking for was a broad representation of different neighborhoods, ethnic groups and stakeholders,” Vice Mayor Lucas Ramirez said. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have Latinx candidates, but I’m hoping in the future when people see the good work they are able to do there will be more interest.”

Similarly expressing her concerns about a lack of Latino representation, full-term appointee Joan Brodovsky said that her relationships with individuals in Mountain View’s Latino community could help the advisory board gather this missing perspective in the future. 

Still, the applicant pool featured a diverse group of candidates as Ramirez had hoped, with backgrounds ranging from an ex–police officer and a high schooler to a chemist and a neighborhood association leader.

During the study session, Mayor Ellen Kamei facilitated the interviews by asking each candidate what makes them unique, which of the recent policing discussions they have attended, what they think the role of the advisory board is and how they think it will make an impact on the relationship between the police department and community members.

The council listened to the responses and after hearing from all 13 applicants, each council member had seven votes to give to candidates.

As one of the two candidates who received a vote from every council member, Cleave Frink discussed how his unique perspective comes from both being a Black man and watching his father run an earlier version of a civilian advisory board in the 1970s. 

“It’s important to make sure that the body doesn’t become a complaint board,” Frink said. “It has to be a deliberative body to figure out how to help the police department and the city serve its community in the way that they want to be served.”

The other of the two unanimous appointments, Kavita Aiyar, said she has already been working on reform with the police chief, including piloting discussions with the public and focus groups. During her interview with the council, Aiyar described the board as a “bridge” between community concerns and the police department.

Among these concerns is the police response to mental health–related issues, with which Eva Tang described her first-hand experiences. Before her father’s passing in January due to COVID-19, he was afflicted with mental illness and Tang said she saw the often-negative impact of police presence during his crises.

“He had a lot of crises before he was diagnosed that were handled by police, and as his daughter, it was a very scary and vulnerable time,” she said. “I wonder how that could’ve been handled better.”

Tang said she is grounded in equity as a teacher in East Palo Alto who has watched the effects of the school-to-prison pipeline, and decided to see through her commitment to police reform by applying for the advisory board after advocating for its formation in the first place.

“I’m here as a mediator to take the raw emotion and anger from the community which you have heard over and over in public comment,” Tang said. “And take that and do the dirty work of digging in and actually turning it into something tangible for the community.”

Echoing this sentiment, Kamei said she hopes people feel included in directing discussions made possible by the PSAB’s future outreach.

“I find it a point of hope,” Kamei said. “This is an opportunity for us to build that community trust.”

HHS won’t use Moffett Field as detention center

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY SADIE HINE / SPECIAL TO THE MIDPENINSULA POST

The Department of Health and Human Services will not use Moffett Field as a temporary detention center for migrant children, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18) on March 18.

HHS had been searching for a potential temporary detainment site in light of the rising border crisis, and was considering placing minors in NASA’s intern housing, which is currently not being used due to COVID-19.

Last week, activists gathered at Moffett to protest its potential use as a detention center.

Eshoo, who represents northern Santa Clara County, chairs the House Health Subcommittee which oversees HHS.

“As Chairwoman of the Health Subcommittee that oversees HHS, I will continue to do everything I can to ensure unaccompanied children arriving at our borders and in the care of HHS are treated humanely and with dignity,” said Eshoo in her statement.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has recently seen a dramatic increase in the number of encounters on the southwestern border of the U.S., including a nearly 60% increase in the number of minors crossing the border.

At the moment, it is unclear what alternative options HHS may seek.

Across the board, local leaders unite in condemning anti-Asian violence

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Local leaders have united in condemning hate crimes against Asian Americans, just days after the Atlanta-area spa shootings in which a Caucasian suspect killed eight victims, six of whom were Asian women.

“I condemn all hate crimes and acts of racism against our [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community,” Los Altos Mayor Neysa Fligor wrote to the Post. “As a community, we need to be united against all racism and hate crimes because united together is how we defeat hate.”

Fligor’s statement echoes a similar resolution passed unanimously by the Los Altos City Council last May, denouncing xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment at a time when Asian American communities faced increasing discrimination and hate crimes amid the rising pandemic.

The nonprofit organization Stop AAPI Hate announced in late February that its reporting center saw 3,795 hate incidents against Asian Americans occur between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021.

“We have to be loud and clear that these crimes and acts will not be tolerated here,” Fligor said. “I encourage all those who experience or witness a hate crime or act of racism to please report it to your local law enforcement.”

Palo Alto Mayor Tom Dubois made similar comments to the Post, adding that the Palo Alto City Council plans to discuss and pass a resolution condemning the hate crimes on Monday.

“I think we need to move beyond tolerance and inclusion to really embracing BELONGING,” Dubois wrote. “I have always been proud of Palo Alto as a welcoming place and I am proud of how we, even during the pandemic, responded to calls for racial justice. We need to continue to embrace a spirit of collaboration and hold each other accountable when we see people that aren’t meeting these standards.”

Mountain View Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga and Mayor Ellen Kamei wrote a guest opinion piece in the Mountain View Voice similarly condemning anti-Asian crimes, and expanded on the history of Asian discrimination in the United States, citing the Chinese Exlusion Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII. Both Kamei and Abe-Koga said they had multiple family members interned.

“In Mountain View, we celebrate the diversity of our community,” Abe-Koga and Kamei wrote. “We condemn racist acts and behavior. Hate crimes have not and will not be tolerated.”

Abe-Koga went so far as to detail an incident just weeks ago when she was volunteering at the city’s senior center, a Caucasian senior yelled at her to “stop talking” and that she only wanted to listen to “American English.”

The councilwoman wrote in the opinion piece that she was initially conflicted as to whether she should report the incident, but did so after learning that the same woman demonstrated similar behavior when interacting with an Asian senior.

“We must talk about our personal experiences to raise awareness, to be seen and counted,” Abe-Koga and Kamei wrote. “This is why we both became involved politically in the first place — as AAPI elected officials, we aim to use our voices to be heard, seen, and ensure our place around the conversation and decision-making table.”

As Abe-Koga asserted, the local community has not been immune to anti-Asian sentiment. 

A woman was arrested in Mountain View in March after stealing from a downtown Mountain View store and yelling racial slurs. And, last July, a woman was recorded in a viral video berating an Asian postal worker at the downtown Los Altos post office and using racially-charged language.

At the time of publication, the Post was unable to reach Kamei for further comment.

“Our Asian-American and Pacific Islander neighbors, students, and community members are being subjected to verbal harassment, physical abuse, and targeted violence based on race,” wrote Mountain View–Los Altos School District Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer in a statement to the community today. “[MVLA] strongly condemns these recent acts of hatred and violence.”

In her statement, Meyer also linked to the district’s March 8 adoption of a resolution for the elimination of racial discrimination, as well as a resolution from last May denouncing anti-Asian sentiment.

“We stand in support of the AAPI community and others who have come under attack since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Meyer continued. “We cannot let this targeted hatred and violence be a legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic … I ask that you stand with us as we stand with all members of our community.”

Meyer added that the district is committed to its obligation to teach students about “bias and historical racism that has led to these acts of violence,” presumably referencing the district’s work-in-progress ethnic studies curriculum.

Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin mirrored Meyer’s remarks in a press release today, also linking to resources to support AAPI communities.

“Like many, I have followed the coverage of anti-Asian acts throughout our country,” Austin wrote. “As your Superintendent of Schools, I want to reaffirm our full support of our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander staff, students, and families … I am encouraged by the immediate and purposeful actions taken to support our students processing racist acts and attacks.”

At the county level, the Santa Clara County Police Chiefs’ association released a statement dated to March 17 condemning hate crimes against AAPI communities. 

Signatories included Mountain View Police Chief Chris Hsiung, Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea and Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen.

“We condemn the recent hate crimes and bigotry against our AAPI communities,” the association wrote. “Our hearts go out to everyone who has been traumatized. As law enforcement leaders in Santa Clara County, we are committed to protecting you and doing everything we can to prevent these abhorrent criminal acts.”

The association added that its members are committed to holding perpetrators accountable, and that “an attack on the AAPI community is an attack on all of us.”

Santa Clara County District 3 Supervisor Otto Lee echoed the sentiment in a recorded county statement, noting that the county is home to over 700,000 Asian Americans.

Last April, the county board of supervisors also passed a unanimous resolution denouncing xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment.

“The increase of violence, attacks, harassment and intimidation against Asian and Asian Americans is absolutely unacceptable,” Lee said. “The face of hate will come in many shapes, but we must always stand in rejection of hate and ignorance, no matter the form. As we enter 2021, we must offer unity over division and to stand up to all forms of racism to protect one another.”

Carly Heltzel, Gil Rubinstein and Melody Xu contributed to the reporting on this story.

Mountain View, Palo Alto police release footage of June 2020 K-9 mauling of innocent man

STORY BY NATALIE ARBATMAN, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The Mountain View and Palo Alto police departments Tuesday released bodycam footage from an incident in June in which a Palo Alto police K-9 mistakenly attacked Mountain View resident Joel Alejo.

Alejo is suing the City of Palo Alto for $20 million in damages. 

According to a Mountain View police press release, the officers were given permission by the resident of the house to enter the backyard as they were searching for a man accused of kidnapping and domestic violence, who the police believed fled to a nearby neighborhood. 

A Palo Alto K-9 unit led the way on the Mountain View case — because no Mountain View K-9 units were available at the time — as a group of officers entered the backyard to find Alejo sleeping in the shed, mistaking him for the felony suspect.

Bodycam footage shows the dog promptly attacking, biting and leaping on Alejo.

Officers can be heard yelling commands at the dog to stop on bodycam footage from Mountain View officers Ian Johnson and Nick Enberg, over Alejo’s cries and the K-9’s howls.

“Give up, give up, give up!” the officers command the dog while simultaneously commanding Alejo to “Stop resisting.”

Officers determined Alejo was not the suspect after having instructed the dog to attack. After about a minute of yelling commands and pulling at the dog’s collar, Alejo was freed from the dog only to be rolled on his back and put into handcuffs in the shed. 

“Believing the person to be the hiding felony suspect, officers used the police canine to assist in detaining the person,” Palo Alto police said in its press release. “Further investigation revealed the person was not the suspect and in fact was not connected to the criminal incident that prompted the search.”

Officers put Alejo in their police car as they waited for an ambulance to arrive and treat his wounds. 

“You’re not in trouble. We just want to make sure that your leg is going to be OK,” an officer said in the footage. 

Alejo was taken to the hospital and treated for bite wounds. 

Alejo is now suing the city for $500,000 for medical damages, $500,000 for loss of earnings, $4 million for future general damages and $15 million in “exemplary damages.”

An independent police auditor will conduct its investigation and release a report, according to the Palo Alto announcement.  

The alleged kidnapper, who police mistook Alejo for, was arrested on July 17 for robbery, suspicion of kidnapping, knowing possession of stolen property and possession of a stolen vehicle, as reported by Palo Alto Weekly.

Friday, March 19: A previous version of this story misspelled Joel Alejo’s name, which has since been corrected.

Los Altos Library opens for limited-capacity service, continues expanded online resources

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Last week, the Los Altos Library opened its lobby service in limited capacity, allowing residents to partake in restricted browsing and book pickup.

The reopening follows Santa Clara County’s fall to the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, which allowed the library to begin operation at 25–50% lobby service occupancy as well as expanded computer use and printing. Residents may still participate in curbside pickup.

“The library will open more as the world opens more,” said Pierre Bedard, chair of the Los Altos Library commission. “There is limited browsing, but one thing they do that is cool is book bundles. I like non-fiction, so I’ll get a non fiction-bundle of six books curated by the librarians.”

The book bundles are part of a host of new and revamped services the library has offered since the beginning of the pandemic — other new services include online book checkouts, which have seen a 148% growth since the beginning of the pandemic, and virtual storytimes for children.

“As soon as the pandemic hit, the growth of e-book checkouts spiked,” Bedard said. “Purportedly there is a bilingual storytime in Mandarin, and it’s hugely popular.”

Visitors to the library must abide by local COVID restrictions, including wearing face coverings and sanitizing hands. However, the library also offers outdoor browsing through their partner Go Go Biblio and curbside pickup, which Bedard expects will remain in service after the pandemic.

“The Santa Clara County Library District has been able to quickly adapt and evolve with the changing health and safety protocols to offer exemplary services,” said Mike Wasserman, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Chair of the Library Joint Powers Authority Board, in a recent press release. “From computer and printing services, meal distribution and student resources, to book bundles and lobby service.”

Although the most recent reopening has generated excitement in the community, the library has continuously worked over the past year to expand and develop online experiences for residents including virtual homework pods, book delivery services for homebound residents and online events.

“There is a wealth of information that is available [for] free,” Bedard said. “There are databases available, homework help. I literally went into the library to check out a book, and it was so cool. Like — do that.”

To book a curbside pickup appointment at the Los Altos Library, click here.