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.
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.
Santa Clara County will allow a broader range of outdoor activities — including all outdoor sports competition — starting Feb. 26, in a move that follows relaxed state guidance issued just days ago.
The state health department’s Feb. 19 guidance permits all outdoor sports competition, even in sports deemed “high-risk” such as football, in counties with fewer than 14 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the population.
Santa Clara County currently sits at 10.9 cases per 100,000 in the population, and in fact appears to be on its way to the red tier of coronavirus transmission, although County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody cautioned at a press conference last week that a number of factors could prolong the county’s stay in the purple tier.
State guidance did, however, leave room for local health officers to implement more stringent rules, an opportunity that today’s announcement confirms the county won’t take; the county health department had originally been non-committal when the state’s guidance was first issued, potentially setting up further drama in a months-long saga of waxing and waning youth sports restrictions throughout the pandemic.
Beyond allowing all outdoor sports competition in itself, state guidance also mandates that athletes and coaches participating in high-contact sports in counties with case rates between seven and 14 per 100,000 be subject to weekly COVID-19 tests, which the state will pay for. It is currently unclear from where and how those tests will be provided.
High-contact sports include football, soccer, water polo, lacrosse and outdoor basketball.
State guidance also “strongly encourages” face coverings and 6-foot social distancing during play, but falls short of a strict mandate. Santa Clara County guidance does, however, require both 6-foot social distancing and face coverings during play, with the only exception being aquatic athletes when actively in the water.
Additionally, the county’s eased restrictions extend beyond sports, apparently to the performing arts and “enrichment activities,” so long as they’re conducted outdoors. Restrictions on outdoor social gatherings will also be relaxed “to encourage people not to gather indoors,” although it is currently unclear exactly what that will look like — the county’s press release notes that the full updated guidance will be posted in the next few days.
“We recognize the toll of the pandemic on everyone’s mental, physical, and spiritual health, and the need to balance the risk of COVID with other human needs,” Cody wrote in the press release. “We recognize the importance of all outdoor activities — athletic and non-athletic — to our health and are seeking to allow as much as we can given current levels of community transmission.”
Cody also noted that it’s “important” that health guidance remain consistent “across the board.”
The California Department of Public Health today loosened its youth sports restrictions, permitting all outdoor sports — including football, water polo, field hockey and soccer, among others — to resume inter-team competitions on Feb. 26 in counties with fewer than 14 cases per 100,000 in the population.
Santa Clara County currently reports 10.9 cases per 100,000 in the population, qualifying the region for the loosened restrictions which apply irrespective of coronavirus transmission tier, a departure from a previous system where youth sports competition was contingent upon the county’s placement on the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”
In a statement to the Post, however, Santa Clara County said that it is “currently reviewing” the state’s guidance, and will provide additional information “as soon as possible.”
“The County will carefully review the newly released State guidance [and] existing local directives that apply to all youth programs and athletic activities, and consider the comprehensive benefits and risks,” the county wrote. “While the County remains very concerned about protecting the community from the spread of COVID-19, we also recognize the value of exploring ways to expand allowable sports activities as safely as possible.”
The statement noted the need to “holistically” protect the community’s physical and mental health.
State guidance allows local health officers to implement more stringent rules “tailored to local conditions,” setting up another possible chapter in a months-long saga of shifting COVID-19 restrictions at both the state and county level.
Among a host of now-standard social distancing and masking requirements, the state mandates that all athletes and coaches participating in high-contact sports in counties with a case rate between seven and 14 per 100,000 be subject to weekly COVID-19 tests.
High-contact sports include football, soccer, water polo, lacrosse and outdoor basketball.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Governor Gavin Newsom said the state will pay for the tests.
Additionally, state guidance “strongly encourages” face coverings and 6-foot social distancing during play, but falls short of a strict mandate. Santa Clara County guidance does, however, require both 6-foot social distancing and face coverings during play, with the only exception being aquatic athletes when actively in the water.
“We are concerned with the overall physical and mental health of all of our residents and recognize the critical importance of sports and other activities for children and youth,” the county wrote. “The County will continue to take a comprehensive approach to all of our directives and will provide additional information as soon as possible before the State’s updated guidance takes effect.”
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.
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 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 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.
The Mountain View–Los Altos School District is preparing to bring more students on campus once in the red tier of coronavirus transmission, subject to approval from the school board as well as the state and county.
This latest development follows the board’s previous approval of a plan that would’ve seen the district take its first steps to a hybrid return in the orange tier rather than red.
Shifting state guidelines have made an earlier return more feasible, according to Associate Superintendent of Personnel Services Leyla Benson.
Benson declined to provide the number of students that the district anticipates will return once allowed, instead referring the Post to the Feb. 8 board study session where district staff will lay out the specifics of the plan.
At the moment, Santa Clara County sits in the purple tier of coronavirus transmission with a 4.9% test positivity rate, 32.3 new daily cases per 100,000 in the population and a 9.4% health equity quartile; in order to qualify for the red tier, daily new cases would need to fall to 7 per 100,000 in the population, and the health equity quartile to 8%.
If the board and various organizations at the state and county level approve the plans — and once the county sits in the red tier for five days — students across the district will have the option to return to campus.
Still, students for the most part won’t receive any in-person instruction, instead attending online classes from a classroom surrounded by other students attending other remote classes.
A handful of the presumed benefits of that would be social interaction, a more comfortable work environment or even stronger internet access.
Currently, both Los Altos and Mountain View high schools have around seven cohorts of students on campus, including cohorts for critical learners, English learners, students with individualized education programs, supervised study, academic support, AVID and the Advanced Scientific Investigations course.
The district is seeking substitute employees to “work in a supervisory capacity” monitoring the groups of up to 14 students to “ensure they are safe and engaged in online classes.” Benson noted that these substitutes are needed, seeing as teachers would still be leading remote classes.
Previously, the board approved a plan on Dec. 15 to begin testing the waters of an optional return in the orange tier, progressively bringing back more students and activities as the county worked its way down the state’s tier system. In fact, a relatively large-scale hybrid return would have begun in the yellow tier, which would have seen students that opted in receive in-person instruction for a majority of their classes.
Earlier this month, Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer told the Post that in the spring of last year, the district had prepared a draft of the “rotation” model, but at this point any schedule would be subject to further discussion.
Another concern from community members at the Dec. 15 board meeting was that students who opted into the hybrid return would have had their schedules and classes shifted, much like the Palo Alto Unified School District’s now-scrapped plans for a hybrid return; in reaction, the board added an amendment stipulating that students’ classes must remain the same.
It is not immediately clear what items from the district’s December plan will remain in place in light of the earlier reopening — specifically, when a broader hybrid return would occur as opposed to the limited cohort return — nor what specific change in state guidance precipitated these latest yet-to-be-approved plans.
The specifics, however, should be laid out at the Feb. 8 study session.
Sunday, Feb. 7: A previous version of this story indicated that the MVLA board will amend and approve the district’s return plans at the Feb. 8 board meeting. The board, however, has scheduled a study session prior to the regular board meeting to discuss the plans with district staff.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The Santa Clara County Health Department appears to have walked back its previous mandate that athletics cohorts maintain a 25-foot distance from one another, a restriction that sparked outrage among the high school sports community.
The new guidance notes that participants in youth athletic activity must maintain at least 6 feet of distance, conspicuously missing its previous stipulation that cohorts keep 25 feet from one another.
In its latest order, however, the county added a restriction that requires athletes to wear masks at all times, the only exception being for aquatic athletes when in the water. That’s a change from previous guidelines, which allowed athletes to remove masks when engaged in strenuous physical activity.
The guidance also allows for two cohorts within the county or an adjacent one to engage in competition — but only track and field, cross country, skiing, snowboarding, tennis, swimming and diving are permitted to hold competitions with three or more cohorts.
“I understand wearing masks when we are on campus, warming up or stretching, but when we are working really hard, it definitely makes the workout a lot harder and less enjoyable when masks are required,” said Los Altos junior and varsity cross country runner Riley Capuano.
Capuano added that when her team goes out on runs — without masks, which was permitted by previous guidelines — they space out, 6 feet apart, in groups of three or four.
“I can’t imagine racing with a mask and how much slower I would run,” she said.
Earlier today, superintendents and athletic directors expressed outrage at the county’s now-rescinded order that athletics cohorts keep a 25-foot distance, which would’ve made competition virtually impossible; that order was released by county in October of last year, but local leaders — notably, Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin — were only made aware of it at a county meeting with superintendents last night.
But the miscommunication between county officials and high school officials sparked a torrent of indignation through this evening, culminating in the county’s release of its new guidance.
The Santa Clara Valley Athletic League is set to begin its season one competition in just over two weeks, on Feb. 15.
Note: Santa Clara County has walked back its guidance mandating a 25-foot distance between athletics cohorts. Click here for the most recent updates.
Santa Clara County safety restrictions could thwart high school sports competitions set to begin in just over two weeks.
County guidelines allow practice and conditioning within stable cohorts of athletes given 6-foot social distancing, but also dictate that separate cohorts must be kept at a 25-foot distance; that presents a challenge once local schools begin competition, when a handful of different cohorts from different schools look to compete against one another.
“[The county] just announced that athletics between schools will require 25’ of spacing,” wrote Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin in a tweet last night. “That sport doesn’t exist.”
The 25-foot clause — part of the county’s “mandatory directive for programs serving children or youth” — dates back to October of last year, but Palo Alto High School Athletic Director Nelson Gifford said he expected the county to lift the clause when the state ended the regional stay-at-home order on Jan. 25, and announced the youth sports competition could begin.
More than that, Nelson expressed frustration with the disconnect between the state and county.
“Everyone expected sports to be able to compete according to their tier designation as communicated by the California Department of Public Health,” he said. “This was a shock to everyone.”
Neighboring San Mateo county has no such restriction regarding a 25-foot distance between cohorts, and state guidance only dictates 6-foot social distancing between athletes.
Los Altos Athletic Director Michelle Noeth said that she was previously aware of how the 25-foot clause affected how athletics cohorts needed to be spaced around campus, but only just learned that it applies to the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League’s competitions slated to start on Feb. 15.
According to Noeth, the county is set to hold a webinar for coaches and athletic directors tomorrow to clarify guidelines, which she hopes will give a “glimmer of hope of information.”
Noeth did, however, express optimism, suggesting ways that schools could hold competition even under the restrictions.
“In theory, I read it as swimming and diving and cross country can still do this,” she said. “They [can] run competitions by themselves and upload the results to determine who won the contests. … Just my thoughts of how to make it work.”
She added that the same could be done for track and field — set to begin in April — as well as golf, which may allow for more traditional competition that still satisfies the 25-foot requirement.
Gifford, for his part, noted that throughout the pandemic, he’s been inspired watching programs provide opportunities for students despite restrictive safety orders.
“We know COVID is serious and I have seen so many programs do everything with their limited resources to provide opportunities for their students,” Gifford said. “It’s been inspiring to see communities pull together and work with one another.”
But he again expressed frustration with the county.
“It’s been terrible,” he said. “Athletes, parents, coaches and the community are all distraught. … We were working in good faith believing we had the blueprint to return to play. Then in two days, the rules change and we are back to nowhere. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
The county health department is set to release “clarifying guidance” later tonight, according to a spokesperson.
Student athletes will no longer be able to participate in both school and club sports over the same season, following a decision from the California Interscholastic Federation to re-enact restrictions on participating on both school and club teams.
The reversal is effective immediately, and comes in light of new guidance from the California Department of Public Health barring athletes from participating in more than one athletic cohort during the same season.
The current ruling returns to pre-2020 policies which did not allow students to play both high school and club sports during the season. The policy was originally changed during the pandemic to allow students to participate in their club sport while school seasons had not officially started.
If a student has already participated in club sports outside of CIF, their eligibility to play high school sports is not impacted. There are currently no students who have lost eligibility due to the decision, CIF noted.
CIF did add that if public health guidance changes in the future, the league may amend or revisit the issue.
Additionally, CIF has extended the waiver filing period for students who transferred to a different school due to financial difficulties resulting from the coronavirus through the end of the 2021 school year. In essence, students will be able to play sports for a different school if they were forced to transfer due to coronavirus-related financial difficulties.