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

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN

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. 

Los Altos City Council votes to remove SROs from LAHS

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

In a unanimous vote, the Los Altos City Council moved to eliminate school resource officers from the Los Altos High School campus and implement a variety of reforms to the police complaint process. These decisions come following over 19 hours of police task force meetings, culminating in the Council’s final vote early this morning.

SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS

The official recommendation of the task force, presented by member Renee Rashid, was to permanently eliminate the SRO program from LAHS.

Following uncertainty over the purpose of the SRO program and an overwhelming majority of speakers during public comment advocating for elimination, the Council decided unanimously to eliminate the program. 

Of all the 52 members of the public that gave comment on SROs, over 90 percent of statements were in support of doing so.

“Whatever the goals of the task force are, they are not being met,” Vice Mayor Neysa Fligor said. “Even if it was just ten students that were being negatively impacted, we have an obligation as leaders of this community to make sure we have a program that works for everyone.”

COMPLAINT INTAKE PROCESS

Presented by task force member Jeanine Valadez, the recommendations included updating the online feedback form, creating a third-party intake portal and creating a tracking database.

The online feedback form will be placed in an “easy to find” location on the City’s website. 

Furthermore, a third party — likely a retired legal or judicial professional — will review submissions before passing them on to the police department, as opposed to the complaints going directly to the department as before. A database will keep track of various different factors including ethnicity, gender and age.

In a 3–2 vote, with Anita Enander and Jeannie Bruins dissenting, the Council moved to approve the online feedback form. In a 4–0 vote, the Council approved the third party intake portal, with Lynette Lee Eng abstaining over concerns of a financial impact. Judge LaDoris Cordell, the moderator of the task force, reported that the cost of a third party intake portal would be in the range of $2,000–$10,000; Lee Eng still abstained.

Following the vote, Lee Eng claimed to have received threatening messages from members of the activist group Justice Vanguard, calling her racist — this was immediately condemned by other members of the council. 

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

At the time of publication, the Post has not been able to reach Justice Vanguard for comment.

Los Altos task force to recommend elimination of SRO program

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

The Los Altos Citizens’ Police Task Force is set to advise the City Council to permanently eliminate the school resource officer (SRO) program from Los Altos High School. The task force chose to leave the creation of a replacement up to the Council, hopefully before students return to campus in person. 

Formed in August, the task force is charged with presenting the Council with a recommendation regarding SROs at LAHS as well as the police complaint intake process; the Council will vote on the task force’s recommendations next Tuesday, November 24. 

The Council can then decide how to move forward with the recommendation by choosing to either accept the task force’s recommendations, outright reject them, accept certain parts of the recommendation or write up its own plan independently.

SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS

SROs are officers from the police department assigned to school campuses, tasked with campus safety and increasing positive relations with high schoolers. Typically, the SRO assigned to LAHS is only on campus upon specific request from school administration, but they may also come on campus unofficially.

Recently, a handful of LAHS graduates have come forward with incidents in which they say they were discriminated against by the school’s prior SRO, which is in part what pushed the Council to reassess the SRO program in the first place. 

“Really, we have no data at all to show that the initial objective of SROs has been effective,” task force member Toni Moos said. “Studies nationwide show that having SROs increases interactions that youth have with the criminal justice system. SROs are not doing the job they were intended to do, so schools across the country are taking SROs off their campus — I believe we should follow suit.”

Moos, the mother of three LAHS alumni, said that all three of her children had “negative experiences” with SROs during their time as students. 

The task force voted 7–2, with members Janet Corrigan and John Fennell dissenting, in favor of eliminating SROs. The dissenting members expressed concern that removing SROs would not fix the problems that were brought before the task force.

“The principal of LAHS will still be calling the police, but the officer that will respond won’t be used to responding to the high school,” Fennell said. “The LAPD might still come onto the campus … it’s clear that she relies on the SRO to carry out her responsibilities. We should weigh heavily what the principal tells us — she wants to even have a larger presence.”

Both MVLA District Superintendent Nellie Meyer and LAHS Principal Wynne Satterwhite have expressed a desire to expand the SRO program at previous task force meetings, citing campus safety benefits; the LAPD, however, lists building positive community relationships as the program’s primary goal.

LAHS alumnus and activist Kenan Moos delivered a prepared speech during the public comment portion of the meeting, criticizing the dissenting members of the task force and asking City Council to accept the recommendations that will be presented next week.

“For too long we have spoken and relived our traumas,” Moos said. “For too long we have been told you are listening and that changes will be made. For too long our voices have been outspoken by white people in this area. Their beliefs, ideals, and racist rhetoric have dictated our lives, oppressed us and terrorized us. There is no more waiting, no more delaying, no more ignoring.”

CITIZEN COMPLAINT INTAKE

The task force will also present the City Council with a reformed complaint process in which citizens can file complaints with an unspecified third-party auditor instead of the LAPD directly. Currently, all complaints with the Department are filed and reviewed internally. 

In the Department’s current setup, all complaints are filed as either “formal” or “informal”; a formal complaint will lead to an internal investigation by the LAPD, while the consequences of an informal complaint are up to the discretion of LAPD staff. According to Captain Katie Krauss, informal complaints are often discussed with the officer involved, but the Department does not store records of those complaints or how they are handled.

Task force members raised the possibility of police officers encouraging citizens to lodge complaints as informal as opposed to formal, though no evidence was raised to support this concern. 

The task force will recommend that citizens be able to change a complaint from informal to formal after initially filed.

Los Altos City Manager resigns

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

Los Altos City Manager Chris Jordan has resigned from his post, effective Saturday, December 5. While the City searches for his replacement, Deputy City Manager Jon Maginot will serve in his place.

“Throughout [my tenure], the City staff has taken on numerous challenges with a positive, can-do attitude,” Jordan wrote in his letter of resignation. “I have an infinite amount of respect for our staff and pride in my role in leading such an outstanding group of public servants.”

Neither the City’s press release nor Jordan’s letter of resignation offered a specific reason for his resignation; in an interview with the Town Crier, Jordan said that there was no one reason for his resignation and that the City Council felt it was the right time.

At the time of publication, the Post has not been able to reach Jordan for comment. Mayor Jan Pepper referred to Jordan’s letter of resignation.

“The entire Council would like to thank Chris for his service to our community,” Pepper said in the City’s press release. “We wish Chris the best and thank him for his many contributions to the city.”

Jordan, who’s served in his role since April of 2016, oversaw the design and construction of the Los Altos Community Center which is set to open in the spring and reinvested City funds into infrastructure.

“Along with many of my fellow residents, I was saddened and surprised to learn that … Chris Jordan has submitted his resignation,” incoming Council Member Jonathan Weinberg said. “To the extent that the present Council was involved in Chris’ decision, I wish that the Council had waited until the new Council is installed.”

“The Los Altos community is fortunate to have some of the most dedicated, community minded individuals I have met during my public service career,” Jordan said. “I thank them for their support of me, my family and the community.”

Paly, Gunn scrap in-person return plans

STORY AND PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Palo Alto Unified School District secondary schools will not make an in-person return this school year, as announced by Palo Alto High School Principal Brent Kline in a letter to the community today. 

Last week, the PAUSD Board voted to move forward with a hybrid learning plan that would’ve allowed Palo Alto secondary schools — namely, Paly and Gunn — to resume in-person instruction for English and social studies courses; Superintendent Don Austin had previously indicated that the return plan could accommodate 30 to 40 percent of the student population. 

Now, in light of Santa Clara County’s move into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, that plan has been scrapped. According to Kline, only 10 percent of students at both Gunn and Paly expressed interest in participating in the hybrid return.

Last Monday, prior to Kline’s announcement today, Austin said that secondary schools would remain in distance learning only if the county remains in the purple tier, and asked families to continue with the selection process — opting in or out of the hybrid return — in the event that the county moved back down to the red or orange tiers.

In place of the discarded hybrid return plan, the District plans on expanding the PAUSD+ program — which provides targeted support for English learners, students from low-income backgrounds and other vulnerable groups — to allow students to visit campus two times a week for academic and emotional support. 

The new plan is set to be further developed after the return from Thanksgiving break, and Kline said that he hopes to have the program up and running by the start of the second semester.

“We have experienced a lot together in my first few months at Paly and I continue to try and step back from each moment … and move forward in a manner that honors the voices of all of the stakeholders of our Paly community,” Kline wrote.

Santa Clara County under curfew starting Saturday

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN

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.

CIF competition postponed until further notice: December return may be in jeopardy

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN

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.

A conversation about Los Altos police reform with Council Member Neysa Fligor

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Formed in August in reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement and increased conversation around police reform, the Los Altos Citizen’s Police Task Force is charged with presenting the City Council recommendations for changes to the school resource officer (SRO) program at Los Altos High School, and the citizen’s complaint process.

Council Member Neysa Fligor spearheaded the push for the creation of the task force along with Mayor Jan Pepper, and the two currently sit on a subcommittee acting as the Council’s liaisons to the task force. The Post spoke to Fligor about her thoughts on the task force as well as Los Altos’ role in the BLM movement, ahead of the task force’s final recommendations to the Council next week.

Note: Parts of the interview have been cut or relocated for clarity.

The Post:

Since May, the issue of Black Lives Matter has been very contentious, both nationally and in our area at least online. There’s a lot of tension, and I’d imagine as elected representatives, you’re also being very much pressured to go and make changes. 

And as you’ve said before, whatever you’re talking about is out in the open in these meetings. But have you gotten a sense that there’s maybe any tension between the Council regarding these issues?

Fligor:

I think we’ve all been pretty transparent in our meetings about where we stand on the different issues raised. 

Maybe in Los Altos a lot of times people will say it’s divisive — and it is — but maybe in other cities, the divisiveness is evident on the council. If you watch our council, even though this is a divisive issue … it has not risen to that level that I’m sure you’ve seen in other parts of the country. 

The Post:

What kinds of conversations have you had with constituents outside of town hall meetings … specifically about Black Lives Matter?

Fligor:

I’ve heard from residents who are supportive of some form of reform. I’ve heard from residents who don’t think we need any police reform. I’ve heard from different people, different friends, different voices expressing different things. And so there’s not just one voice. 

The Post:

The voting demographic of Los Altos is — generally speaking — on the older side, often white. So that group of people tends to be a group that might be a little skeptical of some of these social movements and anything discussing things like scrapping SROs. 

Given that those make up a large portion of the Council’s constituents, how confident are you that the Council will actually listen to some more drastic action if it’s presented by the taskforce?

Fligor:

I can’t speak for my colleagues; I have no idea. For anything to happen, we need a majority of the five council members; I have no idea what will be presented and how they will go. 

I will tell you that it was unanimous for us to form this task force, and so for me, it’s more about what the recommendations are: Will they really make a positive difference? What’s the basis for the recommendation? And then I’ll go from there and make my decision. 

And I’ll tell you, you just described the demographics of Los Altos. But many of the people in that category that you just described support making positive change. And so if there are really issues identified and ways we can make it better for residents, then I know most people in that category you just described will support it.

The Post:

Given those same demographics, do you think that we as a city might actually not be as aware of these sorts of social movements?

Fligor:

I think you can be aware of the broader issues nationally, and not realize that they’re happening locally. 

And so I separate that. And I also separate that from assuming that because they weren’t aware of it happening locally, that they don’t care about. There are many residents that once they realized that some of this is happening here in Los Altos they cared and they really wanted us to do something.

Gunn, PALY to return in person along with PAUSD middle schools in January

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

Palo Alto middle and high schools will reopen next semester under a hybrid model, following the Palo Alto Unified School District Board’s unanimous vote last night to approve the plan; that plan is set to be tweaked before reopening day, with further input from teachers and instructional leads.

The proposal, however, received biting criticism from dozens of PAUSD students, parents and teachers in particular. Both student Board representatives voted against the reopening.

THE MODEL

Under the return model, high schoolers will have the option to attend in-person instruction for their English and social studies classes and complete all other courses remotely. Middle schoolers who opt into the in-person return will attend English, social studies and science courses in the morning, and complete the rest of their classes remotely in the afternoon; however, most of last night’s conversation centered around the high school return.

The high school hybrid return schedule (via PAUSD)

Depending on a number of factors, high school cohorts will range from 30 to 60 students, with the group being split in two; one group will attend social studies while the other attends English, with a swap occurring at the period break. 

The same teachers will instruct both groups, which is why the two groups are considered to be one cohort.

English and social studies were chosen specifically to make the cohorts possible, as those courses are more uniform; high school students often don’t take four years of STEM courses, and even then, those courses are highly tracked which would make scheduling the return model near impossible to pull off.

POTENTIAL DRAWBACKS

However, in order to be enrolled in the correct courses, students may find themselves with a new teacher and set of classmates; not all students will opt into the hybrid model, meaning administrators will have to shift pupils and instructors in order to accommodate differing schedules and preferences.

The staff proposal did not specify how large class sizes of remote English and social studies classes will be, although Associate Superintendent Sharon Ofek said that that number should sit at below 40 — whatever the number, it would still be an increase from typical class sizes.

Furthermore, many specifics — such as what will happen to students enrolled in multiple social studies courses and how likely it is that students will have to switch teachers — remained largely unclear, with Ofek and Superintendent Don Austin emphasizing that many of those decisions will be up to site administration.

CRITICISM

In reaction to many of the perceived drawbacks, community members — teachers in particular — lodged harsh critiques of the reopening plan during public comment, prior to the vote.

“For the vast majority of students that I’ve talked to, full distance learning is working,” Gunn English teacher Justin Brown said. “And I can tell you from personal experience that it’s only getting better each day.”

Brown argued that given strict social distancing and safety precautions, the quality of any in-person instruction will be “flat out inferior” to distance learning, particularly in classes as discussion-based as English.

“I know that there are certain students for whom returning in person may be necessary, so let’s figure out a way to bring them back,” Brown added. “But why disrupt something that is perfectly stable in such unstable times?”

Many students, for their part, expressed concerns about having to build relationships with new teachers — juniors and seniors in particular indicated worry about what that could mean for letters of recommendation for college applications.

“By opening, you’re voluntarily increasing the community spread of COVID,” Gunn student Athena Chen said. “As someone who lives with my grandpa, I’ve been extremely cautious about what I do and where I go. As a school board, you should be responsible for the safety of your staff and teachers and the safety of the students and families.”

Other community members expressed similar sentiments, further arguing that the downsides of a hybrid return — primarily exposure risks, shuffled classes and undeveloped relationships with teachers — far outweigh the benefits. 

Despite an overwhelming majority of critical statements made during public comment, a handful of community members did express support for the reopening.

“How is [distance learning] working well if classes are being let out early, screen time has quadrupled and kids are looking at their phones rather than their teacher?” community member Anais Laborde-Liu asked. 

Laborde-Liu cited recent CDC data that she claimed showed that almost one in five teens have seriously considered commiting suicide as a result of the shelter-in-place.

“Kids and teens are not super spreaders,” she said. “Teachers are considered essential workers; therefore they should be back in school, full time. If you can go to Safeway, Costco and dining, you can go back to school.”

“Our plan is imperfect — COVID took any shot at perfection away from us,” Austin said. “We aren’t talking about making gains and doing some amazing things because COVID erased that.”

Speaking prior to the presentation of the plan, Austin sought to release a unifying message.

“People aren’t the enemy,” Austin said. “It’s strained everyone, it’s taken lives and in many ways, it’s brought out the worst in many of us. COVID is the enemy — not the unions not the school board, not your principal, not your superintendent, not your teachers, or our parents.”

The window for families to choose between the fully remote and hybrid options opens today and closes a week from now. The default option if families fail to complete the form will be the remote option.

District administrators will be holding a reopening town hall at 3:15 p.m. on Friday, November 13.

‘We’ll be hosting our own superspreader’: MVLA administrators present possible plans for in-person return

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND NATALIE WEI, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Mountain View–Los Altos District administrators presented three potential models for in-person return, including “rotation,” “week-on/week-off” and “AM/PM,” at tonight’s Board meeting. Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer noted that there is no set timeline for an in-person return, although the District had previously decided that any physical return would not take place before the second semester.

These recommendations come as the county sits in the “orange” tier of coronavirus risk, indicating moderate spread. Select groups of students — disengaged and special needs students, as well as English learners — have already returned to campus in small cohorts.

ROTATION

In a rotation hybrid model, half the student body would attend in-person instruction on Monday and Tuesday, and the other half would attend on Thursday and Friday; Wednesday would remain a remote day of asynchronous lessons for all students.

via MVLA

“It gives a student consistent daily instruction,” Distance Learning Administrator Teri Faught said. “They’re either on campus the full day or they’re at home — it provides consistency.”

Faught noted that the size of the returning groups could be adjusted based on feedback and necessity — say, to a third or fourth of the student population at a time, as opposed to half. She suggested that the student body could be divided alphabetically.

WEEK-ON/WEEK-OFF

The week-on/week-off model would see half the student body returning to campus for one week, with the other half rotating back on the next week. During their off-campus week, students would continue engaging in remote instruction.

via MVLA

Similar to the rotation model, Faught noted that the week-on/week-off model would provide students with more consistency and an experience more akin to typical on-campus instruction.

AM/PM

Under the AM/PM model, half of the students would attend in-person instruction in the morning, with the other half rotating on-campus at noon following the lunch break.

Faught pointed out that the noon rotation would require complicated commuting schedules for parents, making it difficult for some students to get to and from school.

via MVLA

However, Faught did mention the advantage that — with the exception of Wednesday, which would remain an asynchronous day — all students would be on campus every day, providing some sense of normalcy.

Faught did express concerns about having the entire student body eating lunch at the same time on campus. Trustee Fiona Walter suggested taking lunch in shifts, and Meyer noted that campuses may switch to a closed-campus lunch, meaning students wouldn’t be able to leave campus during their lunch break as per usual.

CONCERNS

The proposals, nevertheless, did not come without criticism. David Campbell, the President of the District Teachers Association for MVLA, heavily criticized the three proposals as unsafe and impractical.

“None of the models presented to staff received an overwhelmingly positive response,” Campbell said, referring to MVLA staff members’ reactions to Meyer’s initial presentation to District staff. “To be honest, none of them were really liked.”

Campbell cited the fact that in a hybrid return, students would be exposed to peers in up to seven of their classes, increasing the risk of exposure levels. However, he voiced his support for the District’s cohort return, where select groups of students return to campus but come into contact with only their small group of about a dozen.

“I think where we would be successful is in expanding the cohort model — allowing targeted groups to return and maintain that,” Campbell said. “If you’re in cohorts, you’re going to have fewer people, but if you go back with a hybrid model you’re going to mix with other groups. I don’t want to take that risk with all of our health.”

Furthermore, he argued that teachers would not only be exposed to a high number of students, but would also be forced to plan both virtual and in-person lessons and face difficulties teaching to a split classroom.

“We are not in a safer place than we were when we locked down,” Campbell said. “A switch to hybrid just doesn’t offer the solution that it claims to provide — we’d be hosting our own super-spreader event.” 

Campbell suggested that the associated student bodies at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools find ways to host safe social events for students, but ultimately advocated to remain under a distance learning model for the rest of the year.

Meyer had previously argued that an in-person return would increase social and academic engagement, allow for more personal connection and give students more routine and structure to their day.

Campbell’s concerns were met with mixed reactions during public comment, where a handful of MVLA parents criticized his suggestion that the District continue distance learning. They argued primarily that their children were having a “hard time” with the limited social interaction. 

Community members expressed continued dissatisfaction with what they referred to as a lack of transparency from the District, urging administrators to consult with parents before moving forward with decisions regarding the return.

Meyer proposed a “cyclical” structure of communication and feedback for the hybrid return, involving the review of the administration, staff, students and families before settling on a final decision. Furthermore, she reemphasized that the decision will also be guided by considerations from the public health department as well as state and county guidelines. 

“Going straight from distance learning to a full return would be very difficult,” Meyer said. “We’re looking at how to best transition; we don’t know when that will happen yet, but we do want to make sure we have plans in place for when it does happen.”