Foothills Park renamed Foothills Nature Preserve, city to implement annual passes

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

The Palo Alto City Council tonight voted unanimously to rename Foothills Park to Foothills Nature Preserve, implement annual passes and set the attendance cap to 300 visitors at a time, although the city manager may increase the cap up to a maximum of 650 visitors. 

The council set annual passes at $50 for Palo Alto residents and $65 for non-residents, exempting veterans, low-income visitors, student drivers and disabled visitors from the fee. Visitors can purchase passes online and by phone starting Feb. 27. 

These changes join a host of modifications — such as the preserve’s new $6 vehicle entry fee — made by the city after opening the park to the public in December brought on an influx of visitors

There remain a few loose ends, including when the entry fee will go into effect. The implementation of the changes is up to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which will discuss further details at their meeting tomorrow, such as whether or not to charge an entry fee for pedestrians and cyclists.

Gluten-free bakery Sweet Diplomacy brings a community of food lovers often left out, together

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND MELODY XU, PHOTOS BY EMILY MCNALLY

When Melody Hu happened to run out of regular flour while baking muffins at home one afternoon five years ago, she discovered gluten-free, mochiko rice flour to be a perfectly delicious substitute. The result of this accidental discovery is Sweet Diplomacy, a 100% gluten-free bakery nestled in downtown Los Altos. 

Sweet Diplomacy, which has always been a to-go operation, began with an uncertain start, opening its storefront in December 2019 mere months before the pandemic began, but Hu said community support has been essential to helping the fledgling bakery thrive.

Hu said Sweet Diplomacy’s mission is to “bring people together to celebrate world flavors and inclusive tastes.” In addition to being entirely gluten-free, the bakery accommodates a range of other dietary restrictions, serving dairy-free, vegan and paleo desserts.

As for those “world flavors,” many of Sweet Diplomacy’s desserts draw influence from European, Asian and American cuisines. Hu, a native of Taiwan who grew up eating mochiko rice-based desserts, said she wants to capture the Bay Area’s unique mixing and matching of cultures in her baking. 

“When you come to Sweet Diplomacy, not only are you getting special diet-friendly treats, but we’re also bringing you on a kind of culinary magic carpet [ride] with us to try different flavors,” Hu said, referring to the shop’s Flavor of the Week cupcakes, which can range from Japanese flavors to Mexican hot chocolate. 

Sweet Diplomacy’s signature gluten-free cupcakes topped with Italian meringue buttercream. (Emily McNally)

As for the special diet-friendly element of the bakery, surprisingly neither Hu nor the rest of the staff have dietary restrictions. But Hu said that she was inspired by the community of people she encountered in the bakery’s early days selling gluten-free mochiko muffins at farmers’ markets and pop-ups. 

“These are people who enjoy good food — handmade, flavorful food — but who also have dietary restrictions,” Hu said, and serving that community “became a passion and a calling that [she] fell into.”

As one can imagine, adapting recipes for desserts that are traditionally chock-full of sugar, butter and wheat flour to be gluten-free and special diet–friendly comes with many challenges. 

Hu said the hardest part is using limited ingredients to create the right textures and flavors that make a dessert recognizable. In the earlier days of her operation, she would list every ingredient on Excel spreadsheets and tweak recipes by the gram, conducting countless trials to get each one perfect. 

“Gluten-free and vegan baking is about as hard as it gets,” Hu said. “It really took a lot of time and a lot of tears and scraping of bottoms of pans.”

Now, with a few years of experience under her belt and the help of team members, she’s simplified her process for creating recipes. 

But more than its carefully crafted treats, manager AnaLisse Johansson says Sweet Diplomacy is built on a strong relationship between the team and the community members they serve. Many of their customers trust the bakery to provide for their dietary needs, which in some cases can be life-threatening. For full transparency, ingredients of each product are listed on the bakery’s website so customers know exactly what they’re eating. 

As for those without special dietary restrictions, Hu is fully aware of the negative perceptions surrounding gluten-free foods that can put off customers.

“You know, we’ve had remarks like ‘What, this is gluten-free? Okay, no thanks.’ And they just run away — like literally they will dash out the store because they associate gluten-free with ‘disgusting,’” said Hu.

Hu attributes that stigma to people being accustomed to the taste of wheat as well as many gluten-free recipes being created out of medical necessity. However, she hopes customers can look past that and be open-minded about giving her desserts a try.

After all, that willingness to try new things is central to Sweet Diplomacy’s mission.

“We bring people together; even if you have all these different dietary restrictions, even if you come from different cultures, you can still come to the table and eat with us,” Johansson said. 

Sweet Diplomacy is open in downtown Los Altos Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Antoine’s Cookie Shop serves up nostalgia by the dozen

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND ARI STROBER, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

In Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” a single bite of the eponymous dish transports the sour-faced food critic, Anton Ego, to a memory of himself as a child, enjoying his mother’s cooking. Seeing a customer experience that involuntary sense of nostalgia is Antoine Tang’s favorite part of his job as owner of Antoine’s Cookie Shop.

“When I hear a customer have that kind of response to the cookies, I’m extremely proud,” Tang said. “Especially when I get an older person — I’m talking about someone in their 80s — that comes into my shop and buys the cookies, and they tell me, ‘These cookies are like what I had when I was a kid.’”

Antoine’s Cookie Shop, which just opened a second location at Palo Alto’s Town and Country Village, is a cozy nook with a 10-cookie menu of classic flavors (although, the crowd favorite is hands down the unique Cookies N’ Cream).

Thanks to community support, business hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic at the shop’s original San Mateo location, and the store’s January Palo Alto opening was met with a warm welcome from customers, selling two thousand cookies on opening day. Tang credits his success to the quality of his ingredients, consistency, and excellent employees.

“The first weekend in Palo Alto was extremely busy for us,” Tang said. “I think a lot of people came from different nearby towns. Our job right now is to win over the local community, and to let them know that we’re here.”

But Antoine’s wasn’t always this big — it began as a solo operation out of Tang’s house eight years ago. Tang started baking cookies “just for fun,” setting out to find the perfect chocolate chip cookies to satisfy his sweet tooth. But the 30-cookie batches were too much for him to eat alone, so he began sharing his cookies with his friends, who pushed him to take the next step to make his hobby into a full-fledged business.

“They told me, ‘Hey, you should sell these,’ and I said, ‘Eh, who’s gonna buy them?’” Tang said. “Then one of them said, ‘I’ll buy them.’ And then she bought some.”

That initial support from his friends pushed Tang to launch an online business delivering cookies all around the Bay Area. Over the next three years, Tang grew the business gradually, building a website and streamlining his ordering process. Demand started picking up, and Tang, who had never imagined starting a shop, began to sell up to 300 cookies a day.

“There was one Christmas where we got in so many orders that I knew I couldn’t keep up,” Tang said. “So I shut down the ordering page on the website around the 12th of December in 2015. And then I was like, ‘Okay, we really got to find a store.’”

Tang opened his first brick and mortar location in downtown San Mateo in 2016, where he could interact with customers face to face for the first time and began to build a staff.

“One of the things that really surprised me about opening the shop was how fulfilling it is to provide dignified employment to folks, especially young people,” Tang said, “A big part of the business is offering a safe place for young people to come work. And that’s something that I’m very proud of.” 

What began with Tang Googling “world’s best chocolate chip recipe” has now grown into a full-fledged business with his own recipes that brings freshly baked cookies and joy to customers around the Bay Area.

“I want people to eat the cookies and be very happy,” Tang said. “I want them to share with a friend. It’s a very shareable dessert. I love when people bring it to parties and they look like the hero.”

Antoine’s Cookie Shop is open in Town and Country Shopping Center Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

PAUSD to make optional in-person return in red tier

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND MELODY XU, PHOTO BY GIL RUBINSTEIN

Grades 7–12 in the Palo Alto Unified School District will enter an optional in-person return once Santa Clara County falls to the red tier of coronavirus restrictions.

As a continuation of the school board’s Nov. 10 vote to return to school in the spring semester, this latest set of plans created by district staff do not require additional board approval and could go into effect as soon as the first week of March, if the county sits in the red tier — but not earlier.

Superintendent Don Austin said that the district will need until then to further flesh out the plans and work out logistical kinks.

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. Schools are allowed to reopen after sitting in the red tier for five consecutive days.

The district’s plans mandate that all teachers return to campus, but give students ability to opt in or out. Students will be split into two alphabetical groups and attend a full schedule of classes two days a week, with Mondays remaining remote for secondary schools across the district. 

While the exact setup is not immediately clear, the plans call for both students on campus and at home to attend the same Zoom class, the only difference being that students in the classroom are physically present with the teacher leading the class, and would presumably benefit from the increased social interaction of interacting with peers during breaks. 

The maximum number of students in one classroom will be as many as can fit while maintaining the required 6-foot distance. 

Austin emphasized that, in contrast to the reopening plan passed in November, student schedules will not be affected, nor will families be forced to commit to in-person attendance, and students who opt in to the return will still have the choice to attend classes remotely day by day.

Many details remain unclear, including how students would rotate through different classes, as the plan will not use strict cohorts. Further plans, including COVID testing for students, will be discussed at the board’s next meeting on Feb. 23.

The district’s elementary schoolers are currently engaged in a hybrid return, even set to begin a full-return pilot with 15 cohorts in February, and an optional hybrid return for sixth graders on March 1. 

Several teachers, however, expressed concerns about the safety of possibly returning next month during public comment. 

“To put anyone into a crowded, enclosed environment for six to eight hours per day at this point in time would be the height of irresponsibility,” said Paul Gralen, an art teacher at Greene Middle School.

Parents, however — many of whom attended a protest calling for an in-person return yesterday — expressed strong support for the plan, citing student mental health as a priority. Many parents stressed that other districts have already reopened and fully vaccinating teachers should not be a prerequisite to an in-person return.  

Meanwhile, student board representatives Gunn senior Thomas Li and Paly senior Medha Atla, expressed dismay at the plan going into effect with little input from students, reporting that they were only informed of the plan hours prior to the meeting. 

“My hope is that there will be a vote,” Li said. “[The current plan] seems drastically different from the plan that was presented in November, and if we voted to reopen schools in November based off of that iteration of the plan, then that decision was based in part on the details of that plan.” 

Austin emphasized that the new plan is simply a reworking of the board’s November decision to reopen and that requiring a further vote would only delay planning and reopening.

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.

Artist of the Month: Dasha Korepanova delights with her whimsical creatures

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND DANA HUCH, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Dasha Korepanova used to sell her character designs in exchange for virtual currency in a video game. Now, the Los Altos junior is inundated with so many requests for commissions — paid in real money, not in-game “spuds” — that it’s become difficult for her to manage during school. 

“I would sell my stuff for 10 cents and hope and pray that it sold,” Korepanova said. “Now, it’s surprising to me how many people want to support my stuff.” 

Korepanova primarily uses Instagram to share her work, posting what she described as a mix of animal character design and fan art. Recently, her following on Instagram has grown, rising from 300 followers to 400 in just one month.

But she said numbers have never been her focus — it’s interacting with her fellow artists and followers that brings her the most joy.

“It’s really nice seeing how the same people come back to your posts,” Korepanova said. “The same people say, ‘Wow, I love this,’ ‘This made my day,’ and I think just building that tiny community of people who really like my art is what means a lot to me.”

Korepanova’s favorite artwork is fan art of a character from the video game “Hades.” (courtesy Dasha Korepanova)

Community has always been an essential part of Korepanova’s art. Before middle school, Korepanova said that her perception and involvement in the art scene was limited to doodling for fun and copying images off the Internet, but her friends changed that completely. She credits these friends for giving her the initial push that helped her get where she is now. 

“When I met my friends, they showed me a different side to this whole art culture and how you can push yourself to make your own characters and your own designs,” Korepanova said.

The originality and quality of Korepanova’s art has mushroomed since those formative middle school years. Since then, her signature style has emerged; if you scroll down Korepanova’s Instagram page, you’ll see a variety of whimsical creatures done in a style that she describes as “muted and painterly.”

But sticking to a consistent style has always been less important than evolution to Korepanova, who said she’s constantly tinkering with her visual approach and embracing experimentation.

“I feel like [art style] always evolves no matter how good your art gets, because you always are influenced by the things around you,” Korepanova said.

Korepanova mostly posts colorful and fantastical creatures like this one on her Instagram. (courtesy Dasha Korepanova)

When Korepanova invents a mythical creature, she considers human qualities as well, incorporating distinct personalities that influence the creature’s pose, coloring and visual quirks.

For commissions, clients often give Korepanova a personality profile to work with, but she said she also likes to add her own touch of “snarkiness” and mischief to her creatures.

“It’s a selling factor because people really like to connect with them on an emotional level,” she said. “That’s usually what gets someone to buy it.”

Fan art of another character from “Hades,” Charon, eating a burrito. (courtesy Dasha Korepanova)

Despite her early success, Korepanova’s parents have reservations about her desire to pursue art as a career, but Korepanova attributes that uncertainty to misconceptions about the scope of artists’ work.

“A lot of people think art as a job can only be where you sell your paintings to an art exhibit … but that’s not what modern artists do,” Korepanova said. “I don’t think [they] understand that art and design can be found pretty much anywhere.”

Korepanova said her dream career is creating concept art for video games, movies and television shows. She isn’t under any illusions about the less-glamorous side of the job — expecting she’d be assigned to “draw 40 different rocks” — but she’s fascinated by the possibility of showing her character designs to a broader audience through the mainstream entertainment industry.

“Having the freedom to draw a bunch of different characters and concepts and trying to represent a certain idea would be the closest to what I do now,” Korepanova said.

But until then, Korepanova is focused on experimenting with new techniques and improving as an artist.

“My goal right now is just to find [a style] that I’m happy with and to grow and explore more and just get better,” Korepanova said.

Palo Alto moves to implement $6 vehicle entry fee at Foothills Park

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

In a 6–1 vote on Jan. 19, the Palo Alto City Council moved to implement a $6 vehicle entry fee at Foothills Park and lower the attendance cap to 400 visitors. 

The council will review the changes to the city’s municipal code at a second reading on Feb. 1, and the fee will likely go into effect in the next few months.

Following the park’s opening to non-residents in December of last year, the nature preserve saw visitation balloon over the holidays to six times higher than the previous year, sparking concerns over environmental impacts and road safety. 

On Jan. 9, the city temporarily closed the park on weekends and holidays in hopes of mitigating the damage — that came on top of an already lowered attendance cap of 750 visitors, down from the park’s typical cap of 1,000.

The city’s vote stipulates an interim $6 vehicle entry fee, leaving the minutiae of discounts, rules and enforcement to the Parks and Recreation Committee. The city manager also has the power to adjust the attendance cap up to 500 people.

As attendance soars, Palo Alto closes entrance to Foothills Park during peak hours

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND OLIVIA HEWANG, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

In an effort to stave off a high number of park goers, the City of Palo Alto announced today that the front gate to Foothills Park will be temporarily closed on weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting this Saturday, Jan. 9.

The gate closure does not apply to pedestrians and cyclists.

The park has reached its maximum capacity of 750 visitors numerous times since its opening to the general public — according to a spokesperson for the City, the influx of visitors in the once-sleepy nature preserve prompted “safety concerns” and “road hazards.”

At the moment, the temporary measure does not have a set end date, although the City Council is set to discuss possible further restrictions on park entry, specifically the implementation of an entrance fee or an extension of the visitor cap which is set to be raised to a more lax 1000 later this month.

As part of its settlement in the lawsuit that prompted the opening of the park, the City retained the right to impose reasonable entrance fees and attendance caps.

The executive director of Grassroots Ecology, a volunteer organization that helps maintain the park, referred a previous request for comment to the City.

“[The closure] will help manage the number of visitors in the park at one time and provide a safe, enjoyable and consistent experience for park goers,” the spokesperson said in an email to the Post. “If Foothills Park is at capacity, we encourage visitors to visit one of Palo Alto’s other open spaces or parks.”

Alternatives to Foothills Park include adjacent Pearson-Arastradero and Los Trancos Open Space preserves, as well as Byrne Preserve, off Altamont Road.

From the City of Palo Alto: The City is seeking docent volunteers to help welcome visitors, answer questions and share Foothills Park information and other support opportunities. If interested, please email Community Services at CSD@cityofpaloalto.org.”

PAUSD students suggest changes to District Title IX processes

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

A panel of Palo Alto high schoolers urged the Palo Alto Unified School District to amend its Title IX processes to better protect victims of sexual assault and harassment at the Board’s study session last night.

Title IX is the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination and protects against sexual assault and harassment.

The District heard from student panelists, who have worked closely with the District to increase accessibility to Title IX processes, as part of its ongoing struggle with Title IX procedure having faced a 2017 federal investigation following an issue on rape culture published by Paly’s Verde Magazine.

At the meeting, panelists and students speaking in public comment urged the District to prioritize victims of sexual violence and harassment, citing incidents where victims have been forced to endure close proximity to their assaulters in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. 

“This is why students are losing faith in the system,” Gunn junior Bianca said. “Victims are being forced to relive their trauma over and over again, and seeking justice is an uphill battle. They may even start to question if they were even hurt or whether they are the one to blame for what has happened.”

Student panelist Anika Rao-Mruthyunjaya emphasized that victims should be given first priority for continuing their activity in “no contact order” situations where either the victim or the perpetrator has to leave a shared extracurricular activity.  

Gunn senior and panelist Rachel Sun laid out a plan to create a “friendlier” Title IX reporting system by training teacher advisers who would advocate for students throughout the investigation process. 

Currently, all PAUSD staff receive Title IX training, but only school administrators receive additional training. Students expressed that they would be more comfortable discussing traumatic events with teachers instead of unfamiliar vice principals or other administrators. 

Students also pushed for early consent education to be further incorporated in elementary schools. Quentin Swindells, a Gunn senior and panelist, emphasized that consent education would be separate from sex education, focusing on bodily autonomy, relationship and communication skills and courtesy. 

“In our classes we don’t get any lessons on boundaries or knowing your body is your own,” fifth grader Athena Gao said. “It’s a good thing to start early with these lessons. We already learn about not being a bystander when we see bullying and how it’s ok to be different, so I think it should be easy to bring this into elementary schools.”

Sun reported that the Responsive and Impactful Safe Environment (RISE) student task force at Gunn has been developing a series of 40-minute videos for elementary schools, and the lessons are currently receiving feedback before being released.

Swindells also suggested that the District’s Title IX coordinator’s role be expanded to include consent education. 

General Counsel Komey Vishakan agreed that it was the “perfect time” to expand the role by training the new coordinator, as the position is currently empty after the previous coordinator, Megan Farrell, left in mid-November. Vishakan said the District is currently seeking a replacement and that the job application is closing this Friday, December 11. She assured the community that site Title IX point persons were covering the coordinator’s responsibilities. 

Students also called for greater accessibility to Title IX reporting resources, including a pamphlet and a student Bill of Rights, as well as a new informational video made for the student audience.

COVID-19 Updates

Tuesday, Feb. 23: San Mateo County falls to red tier, Santa Clara poised to follow suit

San Mateo County has fallen to the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, effective tomorrow, Feb. 24. Santa Clara County — whose adjusted case rate, test positivity rate and health equity quartile qualify for the red tier — will make a similar drop if numbers hold for two consecutive weeks.

In the red tier, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms may open indoors with capacity limits. Schools currently ineligible for in-person instruction may begin to reopen five days into the red tier; specific reopening plans are left up to individual school districts.

Both the Mountain View–Los Altos and Palo Alto Unified school districts are slated to make optional in-person returns once permitted.

Travel beyond 120 miles from the home as well as “non-essential” travel continues to be strongly discouraged in the red tier. All outdoor sports competition is allowed irrespective of coronavirus tier.

A full list of allowed operation in the red tier, via San Mateo County:

  • Restaurants indoors (max 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer)
  • All retail indoors (max 50% capacity)
  • Shopping centers, swap meets indoors (max 50% capacity, closed common areas, reduced capacity food courts)
  • Personal care services — hair and nail salons, barbershops (open with modifications)
  • Museums, zoos and aquariums (max 25% capacity)
  • Places of worship (max 25% capacity)
  • Movie theaters indoors (max 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer)
  • Gyms and fitness centers indoors (max 10% capacity)
  • Family entertainment centers (kart racing, mini-golf, batting cages) outdoors only with modifications

Amusement parks, bars without meal service, bowling alleys, indoor playgrounds, live theater, saunas and steam rooms, nightclubs and festivals are not permitted.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Wednesday, Feb. 17: Santa Clara County to expand vaccine eligibility to Phase 1B

Effective Feb. 28, Santa Clara County will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination tiers, which includes workers in education and childcare; food and agriculture; and emergency services.

County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said at a press conference today that now is the “optimal time” to expand vaccination eligibility, asserting that the county has enough capacity to serve more residents; she noted that nearly half of the county’s 65-and-up bracket has now been vaccinated.

“As everyone knows, the more people we can get vaccinated, the better off we all are,” Cody said. “This is our best estimation of the optimal timing to make that transition.”

When asked for an estimation of when the county will hit the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, Cody contended that it’s “difficult to know,” noting a decline in case rates since the first week of January but also the emergence of new, more easily transmissible COVID-19 strains.

“Everyone, when you do become eligible, please get vaccinated,” Cody said. “We’ve made great progress — and we want it to continue.”

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Friday, Feb. 12: New CDC guidance recommends Santa Clara County schools open for full in-person instruction 

New national guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today recommends that Santa Clara County schools open for full in-person instruction, although state restrictions would prohibit that from happening until hitting the red tier of coronavirus transmission.

The centerpiece of the CDC’s guidance is a colored tier system — which is separate from California’s criteria — that provides recommendations for school reopenings according to cases rates in the surrounding community.

The CDC’s tiered system (via the CDC)

At the moment, Santa Clara County sits in the yellow tier of the CDC’s system with 21.7 new cases per day for every 100,000 in the population as well as a 4% test positivity rate.

The CDC recommends that schools in both the yellow and blue tiers open for full in-person instruction alongside sports and extracurricular activities; notably, guidance in those tiers suggests 6-foot social distancing “to the greatest extent possible,” as opposed to the “required” social distancing of the orange and red tiers. 

In all returns, the CDC recommends prioritizing in-person learning over extracurricular activities, including sports, citing social, emotional and mental health impacts.

California restrictions, however, prevent schools that had not offered in-person instruction for a full grade level prior to entering the purple tier in November from reopening until falling to the state’s red tier; that includes the Mountain View–Los Altos School District and Palo Alto Unified School District secondary schools, which both have plans to return in the red tier, although not for “full in-person instruction” as the CDC suggests.

Currently, Santa Clara County sits in the purple tier of the state’s system, needing to fall from 21.7 to 7 new daily cases per 100,000 in the population to qualify for the red tier.

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, Feb. 4: County to vaccinate residents age 65 and up regardless of healthcare provider or insurance

Santa Clara County will now begin vaccinating all residents age 65 and up regardless of health care provider or insurance. 

This latest development comes after county officials just weeks ago expressed frustration with a “chaotic” distribution process, and as the county now approaches 1,500 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. Individuals over the age of 65 account for nearly 85% of the total deaths in the county, officials noted.

“We are willing and able to distribute the vaccines and we have the infrastructure,” said County Executive Officer Jeff Smith. “However, the big caveat is that we need to get enough vaccines, and the limiting factor is the manufacturing.”

The county is implementing a “no wrong door” approach that allows eligible residents to get vaccinated at any site, whether it be with a private partner such as the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, or a public site such as the recently opened vaccination center at the Mountain View community center. 

“We still have scarcity of this vaccine, we still have a limited supply, and frankly we still have a chaotic environment with changing state guidance almost daily,” said County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. 

Eligible residents can schedule an appointment at vax.sccgov.org.

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Monday, Jan. 25: State lifts regional stay-at-home order

The California Department of Public Health has lifted stay-at-home orders across the state, following a rise in four-week ICU capacity projections above 15% in the three regions still under the order as of yesterday.

Counties will now revert back to the coronavirus tier system, in which restrictions are determined based on coronavirus cases and test positivity rates. A majority of Bay Area counties will continue to sit in the purple tier. 

The Bay Area’s ICU capacity is currently at 23.4%, with health officials noting that the four-week projection is also above the 15% threshold.

As during the stay-at-home order, non-essential businesses are still required to remain shuttered, while restaurants are able to open for outdoor dining only.

Hair salons, barber shops, retail stores, malls, outdoor museums, zoos and essential businesses may remain in operation with limited capacity.

Additionally, season one high school sports in the Santa Clara Valley Athletics League are now permitted to begin competition on Feb. 15.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Friday, January 15: Through fractured distribution process, Santa Clara County officials blast vaccination protocol

County officials today expressed frustration with a scattered vaccine distribution process which gives the county limited oversight over distribution within its bounds.

Currently, all healthcare workers and residents over the age of 75 are eligible for vaccination. State guidance puts residents over age 65 in the eligible bracket, but as it stands, a majority of providers in the county do not have the resources to expand beyond the 75-and-up range.

The Kaiser Permanente system, however, is in fact vaccinating the age 65 bracket.

Further complicating matters, the CVS-Walgreens partnership — responsible for vaccinating older residents in long-term care facilities — receives doses directly from the federal government.

Multi-county entities like Kaiser and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation — which serve a vast majority of the county population — get their shipments through state allocation.

The county has no oversight over either distribution lane.

“We recognize we’re in an environment of changing federal and state information daily,” said County Counsel James Williams at a press conference. “It’s extraordinarily frustrating for us here locally.”

Williams bemoaned a “distracted” federal government, citing the Trump administration’s focus on bogus claims of election fraud, rather than the “raging” pandemic.

“We learned a few days ago that the federal government was going to release stockpiles of vaccines that were being held for second doses,” he said. “We learned this morning that no such stockpile exists.”

Just this week, Santa Clara County surpassed the 1,000 death mark, currently sitting at 1,028 cumulative deaths since the pandemic arrived a year ago. And, in the midst of the full force of the holiday surge, the county has logged a 10.8% test positivity rate over the past 14 days, spurring an ever-dwindling ICU capacity.

County residents are encouraged to visit sccfreevax.org for more information regarding vaccine eligibility and distribution. 

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Saturday, January 9: Bay Area stay-at-home order extended as region’s ICU capacity continues to fall

After failing to reach an ICU capacity of 15% or higher, the Bay Area region — Santa Clara County included — is now under an extended stay-at-home order, set to be reassessed once the region’s four-week ICU capacity projection hits the 15% threshold.

As of now, the Bay Area’s capacity sits at 3%.

“With the current surge of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, the County expects to be under the restrictions of this State order for some time,” reads a press release from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Statewide, 29,233 Californians have died from the coronavirus since it first landed in January; Santa Clara County accounts for 815 of those deaths.

Just yesterday, Jan. 8, the state saw 695 new deaths, 16 of which came from Santa Clara County.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Wednesday, December 30: Newsom proposes to provide schools with $450 per student for in-person instruction

Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a revised school reopening plan this morning, the centerpiece of which is a $2-billion grant from the state government in order to aid schools in their transition to in-person instruction. 

If approved in January, the funds will provide districts that open for in-person instruction $450 dollars per student; the state will give priority aid to schools with large numbers of low-income students or English learners. 

The state is targeting mid to late spring as the timeframe for students’ return. 

The governor cited recent studies showing that schools which have implemented standard safety procedures such as mask wearing and social distance do not act as superspreader events. 

Under the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions — which much of the state is still under — schools that had not begun in-person instruction prior to the purple shift are prohibited from reopening for in-person instruction.

Teachers will be given priority for vaccination, and all staff and students will be given and required to wear personal protective equipment. A public database tracking infections and positive tests within schools will be launched in the near future. 

Newsom maintains that the priority for reopening is still to bring younger students, mainly those in grades TK–2 into the classroom first, citing lower rates of depression and both social and emotional development; older students will be phased in through the spring.

“[In-person learning] is especially important for our youngest kids, those with disabilities, those with limited access to technology at home and those who have struggled more than most with distance learning,” Newsom said. 

STORY BY GARV VIRGINKAR


Monday, December 28: COVID-19 is the projected third leading cause of death in Santa Clara County

The sobering toll of the pandemic comes nearly a year after the county’s first coronavirus case.

Since the first confirmed coronavirus case in late January — with the first death following just days after — the county has seen a total of 65,288 positive cases and 652 deaths; that makes COVID-19 this year’s projected third leading cause of death in the county, behind only cancer and heart disease. 

A reminder of some the County’s coronavirus restrictions:

  1. “Social bubbles” are prohibited given the stay-at-home order, which bars gatherings with members of other households.
  2. Travel is highly discouraged, with a mandatory 10-day quarantine for travel 150 miles outside of County boundaries.

Despite warnings from public health officials and a restrictive stay-at-home order, hospitals have seen a surge in coronavirus cases through the holiday season — likely due to family gatherings and travel. The daily death toll has nearly doubled since before Thanksgiving, going from three to almost six deaths per day.

via Santa Clara County Public Health Dept.

“If you have plans to travel, go home and cancel them,” County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a press conference last Wednesday, December 23. “Cancel your travel plans. Celebrate over the phone, over social media, over Zoom. Cook a meal in your home and enjoy it with just the people in your home. It can save a life. It will save a life and it’s very important to do. … If we have a surge on top of a surge, we will definitely break. We cannot afford that.”

Only 39 available ICU beds remain in the county, with eight hospitals having fewer than five available beds and three hospitals having fewer than 10. Remaining ICU capacity in the Bay Area region sits at 9.5 percent, with a similar 9.5 percent test positivity rate over the last 14 days.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Friday, December 4: Bay Area falls under stay-at-home order, effective Sunday

The shelter-in-place — announced jointly by health officers from the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara as well as the City of Berkeley — is set to go in place in Santa Clara County this Sunday, December 6.

Schools that have received waivers, critical infrastructure, retail at 20 percent capacity and restaurants with take-out and delivery may remain open. Businesses that will be temporarily closed include bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops.

Bay Area health officers made the move despite not yet hitting the 15 percent ICU capacity threshold set by the State yesterday. This is the most aggressive action taken against the coronavirus since March.

Yesterday, Governor Gavin Newsom mandated stay-at-home orders for regions with ICU capacities under 15 percent; none of the five California regions have hit that threshold yet, but the vast majority of the state is expected to reach it in the next few days. 

Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody did note that the county’s ICU capacity is at 14 percent, but the region as a whole is still above the threshold.

The Bay Area region is projected to fall below 15 percent capacity by mid- to late December, but county health officers jointly agreed to put the order in effect preemptively, in an effort to stave off rising cases.

“We cannot wait until after we have driven off the cliff to pull the emergency brake,” Cody said. “We understand that the closures under the State order will have a profound impact on our local businesses. However, if we act quickly, we can both save lives and reduce the amount of time these restrictions have to stay in place, allowing businesses and activities to reopen sooner.” 

The order will remain in place until Monday, January 4.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, December 3: Governor Newsom announces stay-at-home order for regions with ICU capacity below 15 percent

Effective today, regions where ICU capacity falls below 15 percent will be subject to a three-week stay-at-home order; regions include the Bay Area, Northern California, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

via Office of the Governor

Under current trends, the State projects that the Bay Area will fall below the 15 percent threshold by mid- to late December and reach ICU capacity by early January. The other four regions are expected to fall below the threshold within the next few days.

Once under a stay-at-home order, schools that have received waivers, critical infrastructure, retail at 20 percent capacity and restaurants with take-out and delivery may remain open. Businesses that will be temporarily closed include bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops.

The move today comes in an effort to protect against an anticipated rise of COVID-19 cases following the Thanksgiving weekend.

This is a temporary moment — this is not a permanent state,” Newsom said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. We are a few months away from truly seeing real progress with the vaccine … we do not anticipate having to do this once again but we really all need to step up.”

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Tuesday, December 1: CIF moves earliest start date to January, scraps season one regional and state championships

The California Interscholastic Federation announced today in a press release that the earliest start date for season one sports will be Friday, January 1.

Additionally, all season one state and regional competitions are canceled, and boys volleyball has been moved to season two. A modified season two calendar will be released in January.  

“By canceling regional and state championship events, more student-athletes will have the opportunity to participate in a longer season, rather than a truncated season with regional and state post-season play for a limited number of schools,” CIF’s press release reads.

The delay comes after Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement of tightened coronavirus restrictions on Monday, November 16, after which CIF announced that competition would be put on hold until further notice; today’s announcement solidifies that decision, giving coaches and athletes an earliest date of return.

“CIF is confident this decision is a necessary and reasonable action for our member schools, student-athletes, and school communities in light of the current statewide crisis,” CIF’s press release reads.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND OLIVIA HEWANG


Sunday, November 29: MVLA shutters sports cohorts

In emails to Mountain View–Los Altos School District coaches last night, athletic directors at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools announced the shutdown of all athletics cohorts until further notice; that decision comes following a rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in the county.

“Due to the increase of COVID cases in the county, we are postponing all athletic cohorts until further notice,” the email from Los Altos Athletic Director Michelle Noeth reads.

It is not immediately clear if the move is related to the County’s tightened restrictions set to go in effect tomorrow; at the time of publication, neither athletic director could be reached for comment.

“While we realize that these cohorts have been a great support to our students, at this time we feel that we need to be cautious when we return from Thanksgiving,” Noeth wrote, adding that the cohorts will not be reopened “until we hear differently from the County.”

The MVLA move follows decisions from Gunn and Paly, which shuttered their cohorts on Wednesday, November 18, after the county moved into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions; technically, existing cohorts are still allowed to train under the purple tier.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Saturday, November 28: Santa Clara County announces new COVID-19 restrictions, San Mateo County moves into purple tier

The revisions to the existing Santa Clara restrictions, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, November 30, primarily include tighter limits on sports, business capacities and travel; the move comes as hospitals in the county risk running out of beds within the next few weeks. 

The Santa Clara order states that all recreational activities involving “physical contact or close proximity” to people from other households — namely, all contact sports — are prohibited. 

The order affects professional, collegiate and youth sports, including teams like the San Francisco 49ers.

It is not immediately clear how that restriction will affect existing California Interscholastic Federation guidelines for high school sports, which allow training in cohorts so long as athletes are able to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another.

“People can continue to engage in outdoor athletics and recreation where social distancing can be maintained at all times,” the order specifies.

Tighter restrictions on Santa Clara County businesses include a 10 percent capacity limit on indoor stores and “other facilities” open to the public, and a 25 percent capacity limit on grocery stores, drug stores and pharmacies.

The order further states that non-essential travel is “strongly discouraged,” and puts in place a new mandatory 14-day quarantine for persons traveling from more than 150 miles away from Santa Clara County upon their return. Healthcare workers traveling to treat patients are exempt from the quarantine period.

The restrictions will remain in place until Monday, December 21, unless further extended.

Just to the north, San Mateo County is rolling back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, effective tomorrow, putting in place a stay-at-home order between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. as well as a host of other restrictions almost identical to those already in Santa Clara. 

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, November 19: Santa Clara County under curfew starting Saturday

Santa Clara County is under a limited curfew starting at 10 p.m. on Saturday, November 21, in an effort to combat the increased spread of coronavirus. 

The order, issued by the California Public Health Department, mandates that all “non-essential” work, movement and gatherings cease between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in counties currently sitting in the purple tier.

The order, however, specifies that any number of persons from the same household are allowed to leave their residence during the restricted hours so long as “they do not engage in any interaction with” members of other households; presumably, that would make activities like walking, running or any other same-household outdoor activities acceptable. 

“Activities conducted during 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. are often non-essential and more likely related to social activities and gatherings that have a higher likelihood of leading to reduced …  likelihood to adhere to COVID-19 preventive measures,” the order, signed by the Acting State Public Health Officer Erica Pan reads. 

It is currently unclear how — if at all — law enforcement would compel residents to follow the order. In March, when the State originally went under a lockdown, officials specified that police departments would not enforce the shelter-in-place, and rather, would rely on “social pressure.” 

The curfew is set to end at 5 a.m on Monday, December 21.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Monday, November 16: CIF competition postponed until further notice: December return may be in jeopardy

All California Interscholastic Federation sports competition is postponed until further notice, following Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement of tighter coronavirus restrictions today. 

For now, high school sports practices in Santa Clara County will look largely the same as they have since August, with small cohorts allowed to train under a range of safety restrictions. However, all competition, as well as more relaxed guidelines — such as allowing more contact in sports like football — may be kicked down the road.

Season one sports were originally slated to return to official practice and competition early next month, but that return is in jeopardy following today’s announcement. 

“Competitions are not allowed until new guidance is provided,” CIF said in a statement today.

Along with other restrictions to businesses and schools, Newsom disclosed today that the State will not release further guidance for youth sports until coronavirus rates drop; he did not offer a timeline or a metric for that release.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Monday, November 16: Santa Clara County has moved back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions

Santa Clara County has moved back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, indicating widespread transmission. Here’s what you need to know.

Schools that are currently open — such as elementary schools in LASD and PAUSD — will be allowed to continue in-person instruction. However, schools that have not yet begun an in-person return — such as PAUSD and MVLA high schools, as well as MVWSD schools — may not open until the county remains in the red tier for at least two weeks. Schools not yet open can apply for a waiver from the County Health Department to bring back grades TK–6.

Under the purple tier, restaurants will have to return to strictly takeout or outdoor dining models. Bars and breweries that do not serve meals will remain closed.

Other operations that will continue to be allowed to operate, some with modifications, include hair salons and barber shops, retail stores and malls, outdoor museums and zoos and essential businesses.

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND NATALIE WEI