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San Mateo County schools to remain closed through May 1

County health officials, superintendents agree on extended regional closures

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Hundreds of public schools in six Bay Area counties, including in San Mateo County, will remain closed through May 1, county health officers and school superintendents have decided.

San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee said that "working together to address a virus that respects no boundaries is the right approach."

On March 13, the county announced a mandatory three-week closure of all K-12 schools. On March 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he anticipates that schools would remain closed through the rest of the school year.

While educators hope to be back in the classroom as soon as possible, Menlo Park City School District officials support "this regional decision to prioritize the health of the community and limit the strain on local healthcare providers," district Superintendent Erik Burmeister wrote in an email to families.

Las Lomitas Elementary School District Superintendent Beth Polito told The Almanac in an email that the district regrets the impact the school closures has on its students, families and staff, but that the district supports the decision to follow the health department's lead during this public health crisis.

"We are doing our best to provide support, structure and resources, but also recognize nothing replaces the magical experience of school," she said. "We will be shifting into phase two of our district learning plan after our spring break and look forward to providing staff and families with detailed direction about phase two later today or early tomorrow."

Woodside Elementary School District Superintendent Steve Frank told parents in a Wednesday, March 25, email that the extended closure was expected. Woodside School will continue with its current at-home learning program until otherwise instructed, he said.

"Please continue to adhere to the 'Shelter in Place' Orders issued by the Public Health Officers on March 16 and stay home except for essential activities," he instructed families. "We will get through this together. Please take care."

Palo Alto schools had been set to reopen after spring break in April, though that seemed increasingly unlikely as coronavirus cases continued to rise and Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated last week that campuses wouldn't likely reopen this academic year.

The new decision, which is not an official order from the county health departments but was agreed to by each county superintendent, affects schools in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Alameda counties as well as the San Francisco Unified School District.

"The well-being of our students, families and communities is our primary concern. We will continue to take all necessary steps to prepare schools for reopening," said Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools. "Meanwhile, it is absolutely crucial that we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19, by adhering to the shelter-in-place orders and continuing to support learning at home."

Across the six counties, school facilities can remain open to staff "for the purposes of performing tasks deemed essential by the school district and county offices of education," the announcement reads. "Education will continue through flexible learning, meals will continue to be provided and, where possible, childcare may be arranged."

In Palo Alto Unified, plans were already underway to expand the district's distance learning in the event of a longer closure. Students and families will receive an update this Friday on educational offerings for after spring break, Superintendent Don Austin said.

Despite the new May 1 timeline, it will be "increasingly challenging," Austin said, for campuses to reopen at all this school year.

"We'd be down to a few weeks left before the scheduled end of school," he told the Weekly Wednesday. "Reopening will be much more difficult than closing."

Sequoia district considering move to credit/no credit grading system

The Sequoia Union High School District’s school board has scheduled a special meeting on April 6 to provide direction on moving its schools to a credit/no credit grading system for this semester, said district spokesperson Ana Maria Pulido in an email Friday, March 27.

"Harvard (University) and Stanford (University) are exploring the broad implications with our staff as well as other districts in our county," she said.

This follows an announcement from the Palo Alto Unified School District on Wednesday afternoon that all middle and high school students will temporarily move to a credit/no credit grading system for this semester. Students will accumulate credits without positively or negatively impacting their grade point averages — of particular concern for college-bound seniors and juniors in Palo Alto.

"It does not negatively impact in any way our college-bound students and definitely protects students who are having a hard time accessing material, either through disability or devices," Austin said in an interview.

"It's going to lower the temperature" around grades during the school closures, he added.

Online schoolwork that has been provided so far to students during the closures has been optional and not been graded.

In a message to students and families, Austin said that "universities across the country have made it clear that students will not be penalized for missing traditional standardized tests or for posting credit/no credit transcripts for this semester."

Schools will be able to explain in students' official "School Profiles" to colleges and universities that this decision was made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, he wrote.

Harvard University, as one example, said that pass/fail grades will not disadvantage applicants in a recent message to high school juniors. Students who cannot submit Advanced Placement exams or SAT subject tests due to cancellations will also not be disadvantaged, Harvard said.

Palo Alto Unified's grading decision was made with input from principals, instructional leads, district administrators and in consultation with university admissions officials and Santa Clara County superintendents, Austin said.

Stanford University's Faculty Senate also decided this week -- via video conference, for the first time -- that all courses will be graded satisfactory/no credit for spring quarter, except for those offered by the Graduate School of Business, School of Law and the School of Medicine MD program (unless the schools opt in).

The decision was spurred by "the realization that in this extraordinary moment we find ourselves in, students are going to be doing their work in an environment that is going to be quite different for each of them, and for some populations it's going to be quite hard to navigate," said Sarah Church, team leader of Stanford's Academic Continuity Group and physics professor.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac here.

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