Los Altos to draft ordinance mandating safe storage of personally owned firearms

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

The City of Los Altos is set to draft an ordinance mandating lock boxes and trigger locks for all personally owned firearms, following a resolution made by Councilman Jonathan Weinberg at last week’s city council meeting. The exact timeline for the ordinance is unclear.

Under current law, an individual commits the crime of criminal storage of a firearm in the third degree if the individual leaves a firearm in a location where they “reasonably should know” that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm.

However, if an individual keeps their firearm in a “location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure,” the law does not apply to their situation.

Weinberg made the argument that the current state law is too vague as it does not define safe storage.

“The law does not define what ‘safe storage’ means when it mandates guns be stored safely,” Weinberg said at last week’s meeting. “This has led to deaths where a parent believed a gun may be safe in a closet or on top of a refrigerator, but in fact it was not safe.”

Weinberg’s resolution to draft an ordinance encouraged city staff to base the ordinance off of a similar model from Santa Clara County — which applies only to unincorporated territories. 

Under that model, residents are mandated to keep their firearms in a Department of Justice approved lockbox or trigger lock — a device that fits over the trigger of a firearm to prevent it from being shot — and would pay a $500 fine for a first-time offense, and a $1000 fine for a second time offense. 

However, it may ultimately be to the discretion of an officer who observes the violation whether to charge a fine or simply issue a warning.

“The goal is not to make money or make people hurt in the wallet,” Weinberg said in an interview. “The goal is to encourage people to use trigger locks and use them safely. I would be happy if officers used their discretion to only issue a warning, if that is what it takes for someone to comply with the ordinance.”

During the council meeting, Mayor Neysa Fligor pointed out questions that arose surrounding enforcement of the potential ordinance.

“This is a law that would not be enforced through aggressive police activity, it would be enforced through code enforcement,” Weinberg said. “More than anything else the ordinance establishes that this is the policy in the city, and the vast majority of people do their best to follow the law. Maybe that is enough to motivate them.”

While the majority of the council supported Weinberg’s resolution to draft a motion, Councilwoman Anita Enander was the sole dissenter, citing a lack of “applicable” arguments and a low number of local incidents of gun violence.

“I do not believe that in Los Altos we would be doing anything useful by passing this ordinance, beyond the responsibility that our citizens already take,” Enander said at the council meeting. “I do admire Councilmember Weinberg’s arguments but many of them I find not applicable. I do not believe that this ordinance will change tragedy and suicide in Los Altos one bit.”

Police Chief Andy Galea was also present at the meeting, and was unable to point to any recent case of a juvenile accessing a firearm in the last twelve years. He did, however, mention multiple cases of accidental discharge — which usually occurred while an individual was cleaning their firearm.

“A friend of mine had a teenager who tried to commit suicide with a bottle of pills,” Weinberg said. “If that teenager had had access to a gun, they would probably be dead. The teenager decided to live, but a gun would not have given that teenager an opportunity to change their mind.”

Los Altos Councilwoman Lee Eng denies falsely accusing activist Kenan Moos for first time publicly

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

Amid persistent calls for her resignation and a failed attempt at mediation, Los Altos Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng at a council meeting on April 27 denied allegations that she falsely claimed Los Altos activist Kenan Moos threatened her, addressing the allegations directly for the first time since the incident took place.

Lee Eng’s alleged false accusations came after she abstained from a police reform vote in November 2020. Following the vote, she claimed that she had received messages calling her racist from the social justice group Justice Vanguard, which Moos founded.

“I’m getting information or comments from members of Vanguard calling me racist now,” Lee Eng said after the vote. “I don’t appreciate it. I would like to state that I did it because I lacked information, and there were other reasons why I took the position that I have.”

“I voted the way I did, I am representing my concerns due to the lack of information,” she added. “That said, I just want to protect myself and protect my family.”

In the weeks following the incident, it became clear that the only messages sent were from Moos, expressing his disappointment.

“Your name will be all over the papers,” Moos wrote to Lee Eng in the November text. “We know there are racists that supported you. You are trying to delay this. It has nothing to do with budget and you know this. You lied to me in our discussions that you were going to support racial matters. You said you were the only one in favor and it looks like you are the only one against them.” 

After Lee Eng publicly accused members of Justice Vanguard, Moos sent a message clarifying his position.

“I just want to be clear,” Moos wrote. “This is no way a threat of any kind. This is me expressing my disappointment.”

Many members of the public and council interpreted Lee Eng’s statement in the November meeting to mean that she felt threatened — Lee Eng denied that she implied that.

“I wanted to explain my vote in order to protect myself and my family after receiving text messages saying that my supporters were racist and promising that my name would be all over the papers,” Lee Eng said at this week’s council meeting. “I am the only female Asian ever elected to serve on the Los Altos City Council. Kenan Moos, his family and his supporters exploited the false narrative that I said he threatened me and that I considered texts he sent to me as threats because he is a young Black man. That is absolutely false.”

Moments after Lee Eng initially accused Moos of threatening her in November, the council immediately condemned it, and have not commented on the accusation or the threat itself since. 

Mayor Neysa Fligor ended that silence in a prepared statement at this week’s meeting, apologizing for the hurt the council may have done, and acknowledging that she thought Lee Eng implied a threat was made.

“Although she did not use the word threat, when we all heard her saying that she wanted to make a statement [in case] anything happened to her family, I [took it to mean] something very serious and scary was written in that text message,” Fligor said.

Fligor, echoed by councilmembers Jonathan Weinberg and Sally Meadows, expressed that she did not view the text messages as threatening.

“I did not see anything in the message that would make me believe that something would happen to Councilmember Lee Eng and her family,” Fligor said.

During the public comment section of the meeting, residents who empathized with Moos, as well as his family members spoke out against Lee Eng.

“All you are doing is denying. Denying, denying, denying, that is not what a great leader does, you can’t keep denying, you can’t keep escaping the truth,” said Kevin Moos, father of Kenan Moos after Lee Eng delivered her statement. “You waited five months, let everyone think [Kenan] sent threatening messages. For five months. You are cold hearted, you are a horrible example as a leader.”

Una semana después, esto es lo que los estudiantes tienen que decir sobre el regreso híbrido de MVLA

ARTICULO DE TOMOKI CHIEN, FOTO DE ALLISON HUANG, TRADUCCIÓN DE RODRIGO SEPÚLVEDA SAGASETA 

Esta historia fue escrita y reportada originalmente en inglés. Todas las citas son traducciones.

Los estudiantes del Distrito de Escuelas Preparatorias de MVLA regresaron al campus esta semana para recibir instrucción híbrida, el resultado de meses de planificación, negociación y, frecuente debate. 

Para Katie Skaggs, una estudiante de primer año de Los Altos, no fue tanto un “regreso,” sino un primer día de clases; ya que nunca antes había estado en el campus para recibir instrucción en persona. 

“Fue un poco extraño,” dijo. “Estaba nervioso al comenzar, como creo que la mayoría de la gente está en su primer día de clases. Pero me gustan los períodos de transición de 20 minutos porque no tengo que estresarme por pasar de una clase a otra, y creo que he aprendido a entender dónde están mis clases, lo cual es útil.”

El horario híbrido del distrito establece nuevos períodos de transición de 20 minutos, a diferencia de los cinco típicos, en parte para permitir la limpieza de los salones, ya que los más de 2,000 estudiantes que participan en la instrucción en persona en todo el distrito (aproximadamente la mitad del cuerpo estudiantil) se estáran moviendo alrededor de la escuela todo el día. 

Los estudiantes presenciales y remotos participaron en las mismas clases a través de Zoom, lo que significa que, en teoría, las conferencias para toda la clase serán similares al aprendizaje a distancia, la única diferencia es que la mitad de la clase está sentada en un salon mientras que la otra mitad se sienta en casa. 

Una semana después, Skaggs dijo que aunque la calidad de la instrucción híbrida no es significativamente mejor que en el aprendizaje a distancia, tiene sus ventajas.

“Los profesores están realmente frente a ti … es más difícil distraerse,” dijo. “Tienes que mantenerte concentrado, lo cual es útil.” 

Skaggs también dijo que estar en el salón marca una gran diferencia especialmente cuando se trabaja en grupos. 

“Con discusiones en grupos pequeños en Zoom, ninguna de las personas te habla y simplemente te ignoran,” dijo. “Pero ahora podemos tener conversaciones de verdad y algo que creo que es muy útil. Aprendo mejor con una persona frente a mí, no solo con una pantalla de computadora.”

La interacción social, algo que los miembros de la comunidad han citado durante mucho tiempo como un argumento para oportunidades más amplias en persona, es también una de las ventajas mencionadas por Skaggs sobre la escuela en persona.

Aunque una vez a la semana ve a algunos amigos cercanos fuera de la escuela, Skaggs afirmó que es “diferente” ver a la gente en la escuela. 

“Veo gente que no he visto desde marzo del año pasado,” dijo Skaggs. “O las personas que eran un año mayores que yo cuando estaba en séptimo grado en Egan, las veo por primera vez en dos años. También, las personas con las que fui a la escuela de primaria con las que no he visto en cuatro años.”

Con respecto a las precauciones de seguridad sanitarias de COVID-19, qué consisten principalmente en enmascaramiento y distanciamiento social de 3 pies, Skaggs dijo que, aunque finalmente se siente cómoda, cree que el distanciamiento social durante los descansos puede ser mejor cuidado. 

“No creo que hayan hecho lo mejor en el distanciamiento social, pero yo y [mi amigo] … cada vez que vemos un grupo grande de personas tratamos de encontrar nuestra propia área,” dijo. “Durante el brunch hay muy poco distanciamiento social.”

Skaggs agregó que el distanciamiento social en los salones siempre se impone y que el enmascaramiento no es un problema, y ​​nuevamente enfatizó que se siente cómoda porque tiene la libertad de alejarse en situaciones en las que no se siente cómoda, un sentimiento que indicó que la mayoría de sus compañeros comparten. 

Con respecto a las principales desventajas de estar en persona, Skaggs tenía quejas relativamente menores (aunque “menor” puede depender a quién le preguntes).

 “No poder dejar el Zoom antes de tiempo es realmente lo único,” dijo. “Y tener que hablar en la clase de español.”

Ella Blatnik, junior de Mountain View, dijo que aunque su experiencia ha sido positiva hasta ahora, su regreso no fue necesariamente fácil. “Fue un poco abrumador,” dijo Blatnik. “Antes [de irme] estaba abrumada por tener que ver gente y tener dificultades técnicas. Pero cuando llegué allí fue como: ‘Oh, me siento incómoda simplemente sentada aquí, siento que tengo que tener una conversación’. No sé … diferentes circunstancias incómodas surgieron.” 

Pero al igual que Skaggs, dijo que disfrutaba no solo poder ver a sus amigos y compañeros de clase, sino también poder platicar con conocidos y personas con las que “no está tan cerca” por primera vez en más de un año. 

Blatnik, que inicialmente había participado y luego abandonó los “grupos estables” del distrito, dijo que encuentra el modelo híbrido mucho más atractivo porque más de sus compañeros regresaron al campus y ella puede moverse por las salones como lo haría normalmente. Además, es mucho más fácil mantenerse comprometido con sus maestros en el salón.

Dijo que sintió un poco de incomodidad al principio cuando los maestros lucharon en balancear la lección entre los estudiantes en el salón y en casa, pero sintió que todo salió bien.

“Creo que debido a que es más una tendencia natural querer prestar atención a las personas en persona, muchos maestros se enfocan intencionalmente en el Zoom para luchar contra ese instinto natural,” dijo Blatnik. “Pero al final todo eso se equilibró.” 

Blatnik también mencionó los problemas de Internet de la escuela, citando la interrupción durante el tercer período el jueves. 

Bob Fishtrom, director de información de servicios de tecnología, dijo que la interrupción en todo el distrito no fue un problema con las redes del distrito, sino una interrupción de Comcast, una ocurrencia “muy, muy rara.”

“Estuve en Los Altos esta mañana y estaba en un salón de clases, había alrededor de 10 niños,” dijo. “Pregunté cómo estaba el WiFi y me dijeron que nunca había sido mejor. Esperemos que este patrón continúe.”

Blatnik, por su parte, se mostró afable al respecto. 

“Fue difícil, pero tampoco tan malo porque … todos estamos sufriendo al mismo tiempo,” dijo. “Entonces, si nos echan de la reunión de Zoom al mismo tiempo, al menos nos echan a todos.”

Trinity Bang, estudiante de tercer año de Los Altos, quien eligió permanecer en instrucción a distancia para pasar más tiempo con su familia, dijo que la interrupción de Internet en la escuela la afectó incluso en casa.

“Mi tercer período fue básicamente yo tratando de averiguar qué estaba pasando,” dijo. “Tenía matemáticas y me juntaron con un compañero en una sala para grupos pequeños, pero ninguno de nosotros sabía que estaba pasando … Esa fue una experiencia realmente confusa para la gente en casa.”

Aparte de ese breve problema, Bang dijo que en términos de experiencia educativa, la semana pasada ha sido más o menos igual para ella que el aprendizaje a distancia durante todo el año. 

Pero sí destacó que sentía una cierta “desconexión” con los estudiantes en el salón, en parte por razones sociales pero también meras logísticas. 

“En un par de mis clases, los estudiantes [en persona] no se unen a la sesión en Zoom, por lo que cuando hablan en clase o hacen una contribución a la conversación, realmente no puedo escucharlos ni comprenderlos,” dijo. “No sé si diría que mi experiencia de aprendizaje ha sido peor la semana pasada, pero definitivamente siento más desconexión con mis compañeros que el año pasado porque no puedo escucharlos realmente ni avanzar sus ideas.” 

Skaggs, que estaba en persona, dijo que en la mayoría de sus clases se le pidió que iniciara sesión en Zoom con sus compañeros remotos, pero algunos maestros tenían micrófonos en el salón y les dijeron a los estudiantes en persona que hablaran para que sus compañeros remotos pudieran escuchar.

 El estudiante de último año de Los Altos, Jimmy Gao, dijo que interactuar con los estudiantes en persona no ha sido un problema en ninguna de sus clases y que, aparte del fallo de Internet de la escuela, nada ha cambiado para él esta semana.

“La única diferencia es que el maestro está enseñando a una audiencia en vivo,” dijo. “Lo que ella le dice a la clase es normalmente lo que hubiera dicho en Zoom.”

También dijo que con las pruebas AP acercándose, muchos de sus maestros han hecho la transición a más lecciones de repaso en lugar de enseñar contenido nuevo, lo que puede contribuir en parte a la relativa similitud.

Gao, que aparentemente ha sufrido un caso particularmente grave de senioritis, dijo que eligió quedarse en casa porque “simplemente no creía que valiera la pena.”

“Va a hacer que perder el tiempo sea mucho más difícil,” dijo, probablemente hablando en nombre de muchas otras víctimas de la senioritis.” “Tienes que mantenerte despierto porque el profesor siempre te está mirando.”

Gao dijo que otra consideración era que ya ve a amigos fuera de la escuela, por lo que la interacción social no fue un gran factor de atracción para él. 

Por otro lado, Skaggs, tal vez porque todavía le quedan otros tres años antes del inicio esperado de la senioritis, espera con ansias la próxima semana cuando los estudiantes en persona permanezcan en el campus durante todo el día en lugar de los medios días de la semana pasada (dijo que sería extraño tener que empezar a preparar el almuerzo para la escuela de nuevo). 

También expresó su optimismo de que cualquier problema de la primera semana se solucionará con el tiempo, a medida que los estudiantes y los maestros se adapten al modelo híbrido. 

“Creo que fue bueno para mí ir y obtener algún tipo de primer año,” dijo. “No era lo que esperaba, pero es algo.”

Carly Heltzel contribuyó al reportaje de esta historia.

A week in, here’s what students have to say about MVLA’s hybrid return

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

Haz click aqui para ver el articulo en Español.

Students in the Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District returned to campus this week for hybrid instruction, the culmination of months of planning, negotiation and often contentious debate.

For Los Altos freshman Katie Skaggs, it wasn’t so much a “return,” but instead a first day of school — she’s never been on campus for in-person instruction before.

“It was a bit weird,” she said. “I was nervous going into it, like I think most people are on their first day of school. But the 20 minute passing periods are nice because I don’t have to stress about getting from one class to another, and I think I’ve kind of gotten the hang of where my classes are, which is helpful.”

The district’s hybrid schedule sets passing periods at 20 minutes — as opposed to the typical five — in part to allow for cleaning in rooms as the over 2,000 students participating in in-person instruction district-wide (about half the student body) shuffle through the day.

In-person and remote students attend the same classes over Zoom, meaning that in theory, whole-class lectures would be similar to distance learning, the only difference being that half the class is sitting in the classroom while the other half sits at home.

A week in, Skaggs said that while the quality of the hybrid instruction might not be remarkably better than it is in distance learning, it does have its merits.

“The teachers are actually in front of you … it’s harder to get distracted,” she said. “You kind of have to stay focused, which is helpful in a way.”

Skaggs also said that being in the classroom especially makes a difference when doing work in groups.

“With small group discussions in breakout rooms, none of the people talk to you and they just ignore you,” she said. “But now we’re able to have face-to-face conversations and I think that’s very helpful. I learn better with a face in front of me, not just some computer screen.”

Social interaction — something that community members have long cited as an argument for broader in-person opportunities — is also one of Skaggs’ pros of attending school in-person.

While she said that she sees some close friends outside of school about once a week, she contended that it’s “different” seeing people at school. 

“I see people that I haven’t seen since March of last year,” Skaggs said. “Or the people that were a year older than me when I was in seventh grade at Egan, I see them for the first time in like two years. Then the people that I went to elementary school with who I haven’t seen in four years.”

As for COVID-19 safety precautions — which primarily consist of 3-foot social distancing and masking — Skaggs said that although she ultimately felt comfortable, she thinks that social distancing during breaks could have been stressed more.

“I don’t think they’ve done the best at social distancing, but me and [my friend] … whenever we see a big group of people we kind of try to find our own area,” she said. “During brunch there’s very little social distancing.”

She added that social distancing in classrooms is always enforced and that masking is a non-issue — and again stressed that she ultimately felt comfortable because she had the freedom to remove herself from situations where she didn’t, a sentiment which she guessed that most of her peers shared.

As for major downsides to being in-person, Skaggs had relatively minor gripes (although “minor” may depend on who you ask).

“Not being able to leave the Zoom early is really the only thing,” she said. “And actually having to speak in Spanish class.”

Mountain View junior Ella Blatnik said that although her experience has ultimately been positive so far, her return wasn’t necessarily smooth-sailing. 

“It was a little overwhelming,” Blatnik said. “Before [I went] I was overwhelmed about having to see people and having all the technical difficulties. But when I got there it was like ‘Oh I feel awkward just sitting there, I feel like I have to have a conversation.’ I don’t know … different things came up that were just awkward.”

But like Skaggs, she said that she enjoyed seeing not only her friends and classmates, but being able to catch up with acquaintances and people that she’s “not that close to” for the first time in over a year walking through the hallways.

Blatnik, who had initially participated in then dropped out of the district’s “stable groups,” said she finds the hybrid model far more engaging because more of her classmates returned to campus and she’s able to shuffle through classrooms as she normally would. Plus, it’s far easier to stay engaged with her teachers in the classroom with her.

She said she sensed a bit of initial awkwardness as teachers struggled to present to both students in the classroom and at home, but felt it turned out fine.

“I think because it’s more of a natural tendency to want to pay attention to the people in-person, a lot of teachers intentionally focused on the Zoom to kind of fight that natural instinct,” she said. “But in the end that kind of all balanced out.”

Blatnik did note the school’s internet problems, citing the third period outage on Thursday. 

Bob Fishtrom, director of information technology services, said that the district-wide outage stemmed not from the district’s networks but from a Comcast outage — a “very, very rare” occurrence. 

“I was at Los Altos this morning and was in a classroom, about 10 kids were there,” he said. “I asked how the WiFi was and they said it has never been better. Let’s hope this pattern continues.”

Blatnik, for her part, was good-natured about it.

“It was difficult, but also not too bad because … we’re all suffering at the same time,” she said. “So if we get kicked out of the Zoom meeting at the same time, at least we’re all kicked out.”

Los Altos junior Trinity Bang, who elected to remain in distance learning in order to spend more time with her family, said that the school’s internet outage affected her even at home.

“My third period was basically me trying to figure out what was going on,” she said. “I had math at that time and I was paired with a partner and sent to a breakout room, but neither of us knew what was going on … That was a really confusing experience for the people at home.”

Other than that brief blip, Bang said that in terms of educational experience, this past week has been about the same for her as distance learning has been all year.

But she did make a point of noting that she felt a certain “disconnect” with the students in the classroom, in part for social reasons but also bare logistics. 

“In a couple of my classes, [in-person] students haven’t been logging onto Zoom, so when they talk in class or they make a contribution to the conversation I can’t really hear or understand them,” she said. “I don’t know if I would say my learning … experience has been worse this past week, but I definitely feel more disconnection with my peers than I have this past year because I can’t hear them really or build off their ideas.”

Skaggs, who was in-person, said that in the majority of her classes she was required to log onto Zoom with her remote peers, but some teachers had microphones in the classroom and told in-person students to speak up so remote classmates could hear.

Los Altos senior Jimmy Gao said that interacting with in-person students hasn’t been a problem in any of his classes, and that other than the school’s internet outage, nothing’s changed for him this week. 

“I mean the only difference is that the teacher is presenting to a live audience,” he said. “What she says to the class is just normally what would have been.”

He also said that with AP tests on the horizon, many of his teachers have transitioned into more review-type lessons instead of teaching new content, which may contribute in part to the relative sameness. 

Gao, who’s apparently been afflicted with a particularly bad case of senioritis, said that he opted to remain at home because he “just didn’t think it was worth it.”

“It’s going to make slacking off a lot harder,” he said, likely speaking for many fellow senioritis victims. “You have to stay awake because the teacher’s always eyeballing you.”

Gao said that another consideration was that he already sees friends outside of school, so social interaction wasn’t a huge pull factor for him.

On the other hand, Skaggs, perhaps because she still has another three years before the expected onset of senioritis, is looking forward to next week when in-person students stay on campus for the whole day rather than the half-day rotations of the past week (she said that it’ll be weird to have to start packing lunch for school again).

She also expressed optimism that any first-week kinks will be ironed out given time, as students and teachers adjust to the hybrid model.

“I think it was good for me to go and get some type of freshman year,” she said. “It wasn’t what I expected, but it’s something.”

Carly Heltzel contributed to the reporting on this story.

Graduation in the pandemic: three potential plans from the MVLA district

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

The iconic graduation song “Pomp and Circumstance” blares through the speakers as the senior class files onto the campus bleachers together, preparing to walk across the stage in front of the sea of their families’ faces. 

Oh wait no, never mind. 

Los Altos High School Assistant Principal Suzanne Woolfolk and Mountain View High School Assistant Principal Jon Robell last night detailed the logistical components of potential graduation plans — modified, given the raging global pandemic — also sharing the results from a survey of over 700 seniors district-wide and comments from various senior class meetings at both schools.

Results show that the priorities of the senior class are safely graduating together with their classmates; allowing spectators to view the ceremony; being able to uphold tradition and graduate on campus; and being able to symbolically walk across a stage.

Although there were three different options for an in-person graduation presented at tonight’s Mountain View–Los Altos School Board meeting, none of them check all of those boxes. 

Here is a breakdown of the options the district is considering:

PLAN A: SENIORS IN ONE CEREMONY WITH REMOTE SPECTATORS

In the first plan discussed, the entire senior class would graduate on campus in the same ceremony, with the slight possibility that they would be able to walk across the stage. But in order to space out students enough to comply with physical distancing rules, no spectators would be invited to watch in-person.

Instead, the district would hire a videographer to follow along the rows of students in spaced out chairs on the turf field, capturing each graduate standing up to be recognized as their names are called. 

The video would be broadcast live for families and spectators to watch either remotely or for seniors’ support “pods” to watch on a large movie screen as they are spaced out on the adjacent field; the logistical feasibility of having families on the field next to the one where graduates is still being examined by the district.

For students who wish to opt out of the in-person ceremony, their name and photo would be edited into the video recording.

Despite the student survey results indicating that most students care more about graduating with the whole class present than accommodating spectators, a few parents of seniors spoke out against this option during public comment of last night’s board meeting, due to a lack of parent input being considered.

“There seems to be a lack of ability for parents to weigh in on the graduation,” MVLA parent David Clark Hinz said. “As someone who had a graduate last year, I’m thinking about how the graduation is going to come off, as the family is a very important part of the graduation.” 

“As parents, I think it’s meaningful for us to be there,” MVLA parent Shiera Ariel added.

Woolfolk said she hopes to send out a widespread survey to parents as well as potentially hold a Zoom call or webinar to receive and discuss feedback from parents in the next month or so.

PLAN B: TWO MINI CEREMONIES WITH IN-PERSON SPECTATORS

In the second option presented, about half of the senior class — around 250–275 students — would graduate at a time, with two to three ceremonies being held on campus throughout the day; the larger Los Altos bleachers could accommodate enough students per ceremony to only hold two, whereas Mountain View would likely have to hold three.

Every senior would be given the same number of graduation tickets, likely four, and those spectators would sit in designated pods on the turf field to watch students stand up in the bleachers when their name is called. 

Seniors would be seated on the home-side bleachers as spaced out as they can be, which Woolfolk said is only 4 feet apart. Although there are no indications that federal, state or county guidelines will loosen to only require 4-foot physical distancing by June 4, Woolfolk said that this plan was made with that assumption.

This model also includes broadcasting a live stream of the graduation ceremony for those who are unable to safely attend.

Concerns surrounding this plan, as expressed by seniors in the survey, include losing the authenticity of traditions and speeches by having to repeat everything, fears around the rushed setup and changes between ceremonies — such as potential issues of sanitization — and not being together as a whole class.

“I selected to have graduation with as many seniors as possible and no audience … I just want to be with my friends, but it would be nice to have my family there too,” an anonymous senior wrote in the survey.

PLAN C: SINGLE CEREMONY WITH SPECTATORS, OFF-SITE

The last option, which was brought up as a possibility during the recent discussions with seniors, was to hold an off-campus ceremony at an outdoor venue large enough to have seniors and spectators spaced out safely. 

Woolfolk said they currently have a non-binding hold on the Earthquake’s Stadium, the same location as last year’s drive-in graduation ceremony video, but this time it would reserve the whole field and stands, allowing the schools the space they need to bring everyone together by spreading them apart.

She added that the owners offered to lend out the stadium itself for free, meaning the district would only have to pay for the necessary staff to operate the venue — she described it as a “very generous” deal. 

Other venues mentioned include Levi’s Stadium, which would cost at least twice as much as Earthquake’s, and Shoreline Amphitheatre, which may not have enough room and is also considerably more expensive.

The district’s non-binding hold on the Earthquake’s Stadium for June 4 will come up in two weeks, so decisions regarding Plan C must be made quickly. 

But this seeming compromise of having all graduates and spectators together may have its own pitfalls.

“There’s a lot of sentiment of ‘we love having graduation on campus,’ there’s a lot of love for Plans A and B because of that campus aspect,” Woolfolk said.

She added that one of the major concerns is whether or not being off-site would take away from the seniors’ graduation experience, a question likely to be asked in another future survey.

FEEDBACK AND NEXT STEPS

The survey of Mountain View High School students found that 75% of the 362 students who responded were in favor of a ceremony held at an off-site space large enough to hold all graduates and spectators; Los Altos High School conducted a similar survey but did not ask about off-campus options.

Slightly lower, 70% of those seniors said they were in favor of a distanced ceremony on the campus field without specifying whether or not spectators were present, and, significantly lower, only 26% were in favor of conducting three mini-ceremonies throughout the day to ensure safety. 

In the Los Altos survey of 411 seniors, 54.5% of students said that having as many seniors graduate together as possible with virtual spectators was more important to them than having a small number of family and friends and dividing it up into mini-ceremonies. 

Graduation plans will be finalized in the next month or so, with opportunities for more senior, parent and community input in the meantime; Robell said the next senior cabinet meeting in which this will be discussed is on April 7.

“We thank you for using student input so heavily,” senior and Mountain View School Board Representative Erin Coyne said.

While trying to preserve as much of the tradition and community as possible, with coronavirus restrictions still in place and an uncertain future, Woolfolk and Robell remained cautiously optimistic for lifted restrictions in June.

The limits of COVID-19 safety and inability to make everyone happy puts extra pressure on their decision, but looking forward, Woolfolk, Robell, and the team of people working to cement ceremony plans are currently focused on one thing.

“What both admin teams have agreed that we want is for both comprehensive high schools to agree on only one of the plans district-wide, with options clearly lined up for seniors,” Woolfolk said.

And through the ups and downs of planning the end goal has always been to provide as much of a traditional ceremony as possible: caps, gowns, diplomas and all.

“I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it,” Robell said.

Los Altos seeks input on hiring city manager

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

The City of Los Altos, continuing its months-long search for a new, permanent, city manager, has created an online survey for residents and business owners to provide input.

In a recent press release, Mayor Neysa Fligor urged residents and business owners to fill out the survey.

“We strive to find a City Manager who will be a good fit for the Los Altos community. Having the residents and business owners provide input will help the City Council in selecting an individual who will provide strong leadership for City staff, work well with the community and have a successful partnership with Council,” Fligor wrote. “We urge all residents and business owners to complete the short survey.” 

This survey follows the resignation of former city manager Chris Jordan last December, and the appointment of interim city manager Brad Kilgore early this year.

“We are looking forward to hiring someone who will be a good fit for the Los Altos community,” Fligor wrote in an email to the Post.

The city is closing the survey on March 2. To fill it out, click here.

MVLA board approves in-person return in red tier

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, CARLY HELTZEL AND OLIVIA HEWANG, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

The Mountain View–Los Altos School District board tonight unanimously approved the plans and budget for an optional in-person return in the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, but did leave room for further amendment later this month. 

Tonight’s development serves as an addendum to the board’s previous approval of a plan that would’ve seen the district take its first steps to an in-person return in the orange tier, presumably speeding up the timetable for a broader hybrid return sometime in the orange or yellow tiers.

Anticipating loosening guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, trustees had considered pushing the approval out two weeks, but ultimately voted to approve the plan at tonight’s meeting in the event that the county moves into the red tier before the end of the month.

Currently, Santa Clara County sits in the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, needing to fall substantially in the number of new cases per 100,000 residents metric to fall to the red tier.

PLANS

Under the district’s return model, students will work on campus once a week in a “study hall” format, participating in remote classes while physically present in a classroom with other students from the same “stable group.”

In a departure from the current “cohort” model in operation throughout the purple tier, the number of students in a classroom will not be limited to 14, instead only limited by the number of students that can fit in the room maintaining a 6-foot distance.

Stable groups will be assigned to specific “zones” on campus, with no shared facilities, although students within the groups will still be held to distancing restrictions; the extra step of separating the broader groups would in theory provide another layer of safety.

State guidance puts no cap on the size of stable groups, although tentative district plans set the largest group at around 90, for the most part assigned by grade level.

Last week, Associate Superintendent of Personnel Services Leyla Benson indicated to the Post that the district is operating some 15 cohorts across its sites, including cohorts for critical learners, English learners, students with individualized education programs, supervised study, academic support, AVID and the Advanced Scientific Investigations course. It is currently unclear how these cohorts will be affected by these latest plans.

The district’s tentative schedule for the first three weeks of an in-person return in the red tier of coronavirus restrictions (via MVLA school district)

The district’s tentative schedule outlines a phased approach that will bring increasing numbers of students on campus over a three-week period, allowing additional time to hire more substitute staff and work out logistical kinks. 

Substitute teachers will supervise the groups, rather than full-time teachers who will still run remote classes, although District Teachers’ Association President Dave Campbell indicated that some full-time staff may volunteer to supervise groups.

The district’s approved budget for the in-person return in the red tier of coronavirus restrictions (via MVLA school district)

The plan does come with a hefty price tag of $1.2 million, in part funded by federal coronavirus relief aid, largely put toward the additional substitute teachers needed to supervise groups.

That budget, however, was quickly approved by trustees, with the majority of the debate surrounding the return plans themselves.

As bemoaned by a handful of community members during the meeting’s public comment, the study hall format doesn’t allow for any in-person instruction, with the learning experience being essentially the same as remote learning — a far cry from a handful of other high schools across the nation currently participating in full-on hybrid instruction with in-person lectures and activities.

“The benefit is [students] get this social interaction during lunch, during break and after classes,” Distance Learning Administrator Teri Faught argued. “This is our first stage in getting our students back in classes in a very structured environment.”

In a district survey, a majority of students indicated interest in returning to campus if “conditions safely allow,” but a similar majority rejected a hypothetical in-person return similar to the study hall format approved by the board tonight.

OPPOSITION TO BROADER HYBRID RETURN

While the teacher’s union expressed some degree of support for the district’s plans for the red tier — largely because teachers will continue operating remotely, with only substitute staff supervising groups in-person — the union has previously expressed vehement disapproval of any broader hybrid return that’d include in-person instruction, as opposed to the essentially remote model of tonight’s approved plan.

There is currently no indication that any plans for such a hybrid return are in the works, as well as at what point that return could even happen. Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer previously indicated that that may happen sometime in the yellow tier, but any plans at this point would be subject to collective bargaining with the teacher’s union.

“I think the vast majority of teachers are pretty freaked out about returning right now,” Campbell, the union president, said in an interview with the Post in January.

Conceding that teachers and students alike are struggling through distance learning, Campbell said that the potential cost of bringing large groups back on campus could be its own “superspreader event.”

“You want me to expose myself, and sacrifice my life potentially?” Campbell said. “I think when you look at the trade off, making it through a couple months and surviving at home is a lot better than going back in person and losing a classmate, losing a teacher, losing a family member because we opened up too soon.”

Los Altos High School science teacher Darren Dressen runs a cohort of students enrolled in the specialized, hands-on Advanced Science Investigation class. 

His 22 students rotate their in-person days so only about six to eight students are in the classroom at one time; they work on their projects in the lab during third period and go to their other classes on Zoom.

Dressen, echoing Campbell’s disapproval of a hybrid return, said he knows several teachers across the country whose schools have tried to return using a hybrid model and had to go back to remote learning due to an outbreak or “logistical nightmares.”

“Everywhere I’ve looked on message boards, it’s a disaster. It just doesn’t work very well,” Dressen said. “So I wouldn’t be up for that type of hybrid learning.” 

Dressen addressed how the different models of hybrid learning, including weekly alternating groups of students on campus or breaking up the day into morning and afternoon cohorts, are ineffective and “messy,” especially with the possibility that students could have to change schedules or switch teachers.

Another teacher who oversees an academic support cohort on Wednesdays, Michael Prehn, said that he knows many teachers would not want to or be able to return in-person because it is too much of a safety risk; however, as Prehn said he is healthy and not in contact with any at risk people, he chose to volunteer as a teacher for the original in-person cohorts.

“I think a lot of teachers would love to be back in the classroom, but for a lot of people, they’re extremely worried and anxious that if you were going to be exposed to a virus, that they could really hurt someone that they love,” Prehn said.

Campbell similarly cited this as one of his greatest concerns with returning — even after being vaccinated, as there is no evidence that vaccinated individuals can’t carry and spread the virus — as the reason why he didn’t sign up to teach a cohort.

“My wife would not let me. It’s just a matter of bringing it home; we’ve had cohorts shut down because people got exposed, we’ve had people test positive,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to do that to my wife. She doesn’t deserve that.”

And although his curriculum has been cut down to the bare bones and the costs of distance learning by far outweigh any potential benefits — such as not having to commute from San Francisco every day — he said everyone has persisted and persevered.

“I’ve been amazed, just absolutely amazed, at how resilient my students are and how engaged they are,” Campbell said. “I love seeing their smiling faces on the zoom. Again, this is not as good as in-person, but I think it’s the next best thing.”

Gil Rubinstein contributed to the reporting on this story.

Current plans bare, but MVLA set to implement ethnic studies course in 2022

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

The Mountain View–Los Altos School District has plans to implement an ethnic studies course in the fall of 2022.

Ethnic studies — loosely defined as the study of race, ethnicity and inequality from the perspective of people of color in the United States — has faced criticism since its inception in the late 1960s.

Detractors, notably in Tucson, Ariz., have called ethnic studies “divisive,” and asserted that the courses teach “resentment.” Separately, Jewish groups have contended that many versions of the curriculum minimize anti-Semitism, and take a one-sided approach to teaching Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Supporters have argued the importance of examining race and ethnicity, asserting that doing so will teach “respect” and “tolerance.”

Most recently, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill in November of last year that would’ve made ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement starting in 2029; he clarified that he supported the idea, citing his previous approval of a similar requirement in the California State University system, but felt that the draft curriculum needed more revision.

Derek Miyhara, Social Studies Department Coordinator at Los Altos High School, said that the MVLA district is yet to begin devising its course.

“We actually don’t know where it is going to be put in the curriculum; it’s something that needs to be decided,” he wrote in an email to the Post. “We have also put off efforts to develop the class until we know where in the curriculum it will be and whether it will be a semester or year-long course.”

The University of California system requires two years of social studies courses for freshman admissions — one year of world or European history as well as a year of United States history.

Miyahara said that he’s currently unsure if the ethnic studies course would be a graduation requirement as opposed to an elective, noting that the push from student and community groups is for a required course. A required course would take “some reconfigurations” of the current social studies offerings to implement, he added.

When asked how the course team plans to address concerns that have arisen in the past with ethnic studies courses in other school districts, Miyahara said that it’d be hard to comment on the process for developing the course before logistics such as course length and requirement have been determined.

Miyahara added that the district has not yet decided the specifics and structure of the team that would devise the course. Board President Fiona Walter suggested that the district could draw from the curriculum currently being created by the state, similarly emphasizing the current “work in progress” nature of the course.

Any eventual curriculum — which Miyahara said should be more fleshed out around the end of the fall semester next year — will need to be approved by the board of trustees before implementation.

Los Altos Police Department to encrypt public radio channel

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

Starting in March, the Los Altos Police Department will be encrypting its radio communications following new guidance from the California Department of Justice.

The justice department’s order mandates that police departments statewide encrypt personal information such as names, driver’s license numbers and other personal identifiers when transmitted over the radio. Currently, officers must transmit personally identifying information over a radio channel shared with other first responders that’s accessible to the public by commercial scanners and smartphone apps.

The order allows police departments to either encrypt their public channels, create a separate encrypted channel or else find another way to communicate sensitive information.

In a memo to city council, Police Chief Andy Galea announced that the department chose to encrypt the main channel, citing a lack of available staff to manage a separate encrypted channel.

The switch may now limit the media and public’s ability to access and monitor police activity, a fact that Galea acknowledged.

“I certainly understand the concerns expressed by those who would lose access to our main radio channels,” Galea wrote. “The department has embraced social media to keep the community up to date and provides tools for community members to keep informed.”

The move follows the Palo Alto Police Department’s decision to encrypt its channel, which drew quick censure, as the department gave no warning before making the switch and did so without any advisement from the city council. 

Although the justice department directed police departments to make the switch last October, Los Altos is one of only three cities in Santa Clara County yet to make the switch.

Click here to read the full memo.

Hands on at a distance: Evodyne Robotics Academy continues education online

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

If Evodyne Robotics Founder and CEO Raghav Gupta had waited just five more minutes, he knows he wouldn’t have been able to secure the domain name of his dreams. He spent a year coming up with the immaculate arrangement of letters and refreshed the purchasing page every day for a month, waiting for the 10-year lease of a German guy in China (the then-owner of the domain) to come up and free his company’s rightful website title. 

But finally he had his opportunity. He clicked the ‘buy now’ button faster than you can say “Evodyne Robotics,” and it was all his. Gupta emerged triumphant with his prized trophy: evodyne.co. It was perfection. 

Evodyne Robotics, now complete with its domain, strives to give high school students a hands-on and comprehensive education about the world of robotics, providing courses using a custom-designed robotic arm kit. 

The six-month program is split into month-long sessions, building up the robotic arm to do increasingly complex tasks. Students start by building the mechanical parts, and those who continue code mobile phone apps to control the robot, attach wheels and a webcam to drive it remotely and eventually enable autonomous navigation. 

The program, however, had to undergo massive changes with the onset of COVID-19. The switch to go online was a “weird moment,” Gupta said, especially given how much of robotics is rooted in hands-on work and instruction.

Seeing it as an opportunity to expand the program, though, Gupta soon embraced the change. The classes shifted to Zoom, with materials mailed to participants in kits. Initially, Gupta struggled with demonstrating work over the video platform and working with students individually, as camera angles and quality could not simulate a live classroom for detailed work. But Gupta’s later addition of a webcam to kits allowed instructors to better monitor student progress as they would in normal sessions.

“The teaching has to be adjusted so that everybody can do it at the same speed,” he said. “The ones that do work faster don’t get bored, and the ones who got stuck on a step don’t start getting overwhelmed by the fact that they are behind.”

Despite the difficulties, Gupta said that “every single day we are able to improve some aspect of the robot based upon feedback from the kids.” Now not limited to students within driving distance of their Downtown Mountain View location, Gupta said online instruction has also opened up new possibilities for expansion; Evodyne has begun enrolling students from throughout the rest of California, and there’s even interest coming from as far as New York.

As Gupta continues to expand Evodyne, he’s also started to introduce a new initiative aimed at uplifting women in robotics. Gupta said that despite the robustness of many high schools’ robotics programs, girls have not always felt welcome.

Aileen Mi, a Lynbrook High School student who attended one of Evodyne’s summer sessions earlier this year, said that this effort was one of the factors that drew her to Evodyne in the first place. Prior to participating in Evodyne’s program, Aileen attended a Stanford course on embedded systems, but soon realized that she was the only female in her class. 

“There is inequality and under-representation in robotics,” Aileen said. “My experience with that drew me to Evodyne.”

Aileen is now interning at Evodyne Robotics, helping with its marketing and outreach.

“I hope when other people see that girls are doing these things, and we are working hands on with the robots, girls will be more interested in wanting to do something like this because it is a male-dominated industry,” she added, speaking about her own participation in the program.

The results are encouraging, as Gupta said that groups like Monta Vista High School’s Girls Who Code Club have requested a robotics program specifically targeted for girls.

“I have noticed that girls in local high schools are interested, but they get intimidated by the size and scope of the high school robotics programs that are already there,” he said.

These large high school robotics programs are further beset with too great a focus on artificial competitions, Gupta said, preventing students from getting a deep understanding of all aspects of the building process. These competitions, which generally involve challenges such as hurling a large ball as far as possible, are not realistic representations of the robotics industry today, he said.

“They designed their robotics programs to mimic high school sports, which is around big and heavy things,” Gupta said, later referring to football. “And there seems to be less focus on students learning the finer aspects like if you think about surgical robots, they are not big and giant, there’s a precision involved.”

Another shortfall that Gupta noted was that high school teams use the JavaScript language to code their robots despite modern robots using Python and C++ languages almost exclusively.

“It’s a good program, but I believe that it has fallen behind in teaching students the skills that modern robotics companies are looking for,” Gupta said.

Aileen said that Evodyne’s smaller initiative felt more genuine and authentic because Gupta and other instructors were more focused on a holistic understanding, even going so far as to delve into the physics and electronics behind what they were building.

Gupta echod this, saying that he wanted to make Evodyne’s program represent the future of the robotics industry in which they “will be everywhere in the consumer space.” In a few years, Gupta said that a fundamental knowledge of robots, like the education that Evodyne provides, will become invaluable to students hoping to succeed in STEM, just as computers have.

“Kids are already coming up with ideas which excite other kids and are exciting to me personally,” Gupta said. “My hope and my goal of having a robot on every desk and in every home, seems to be slowly taking some shape.”


Find more information about Evodyne Robotics at its website, and sign up for its January robotics session at the Robotic Academy page.