News

Schools seek waiver so kids can return to campus

Amid pressure from parents, local private elementary schools are asking county for permission to reopen in person

The Silicon Valley International School Cohn campus on Laura Lane in Palo Alto on July 28. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

More than 80 local schools have contacted the Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Operations about filing a waiver to reopen their elementary campuses in person in the fall, including several on the Midpeninsula.

The waiver option — mentioned briefly in a press release sent by Gov. Gavin Newsom's office following his July 17 announcement that schools in counties being monitored by the state cannot not physically reopen, throwing many schools' plans into disarray — allows schools to seek an exception from their local county health officer.

Several local private elementary schools moved quickly to apply for a waiver, saying they felt confident that with more resources, smaller student populations and already detailed plans for how to safely reopen that they can and should bring their youngest students back for face-to-face instruction. They also have spent ample time — and money — to prepare their campuses for students' safe return to school.

Local schools that have confirmed they are seeking a waiver include Bowman School, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, Emerson School and Silicon Valley International School in Palo Alto, Pinewood School in Los Altos and the German International School of Silicon Valley in Mountain View.

"Our size allows flexibility in keeping staff and students safe using the guidelines provided by local and state authorities," Bowman Head of School MaryBeth Ricks said. "It's important to stress that we're going to be extremely responsible … but we're going to try every avenue to get especially the younger ones in person and not give up hope that we can be granted the waiver."

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Before Newsom's announcement, Bowman had already brought some students back to school for a summer session with numerous precautions. Students were in stable cohorts of 12; students and staff had their temperatures and symptoms checked daily; all students older than first grade were required to wear masks all day; and all staff gathering areas were closed. A new volunteer task force, made up of Bowman parents who work in the medical field, advised Ricks on best practices for reopening.

"Everybody's been positive about" reopening schools in person, Ricks said of the parent-advisers, "based on our very, very strict plans."

Bowman is now developing three different contingency plans for the first day of school on Sept. 1: full distance learning, a hybrid model if the waiver is approved and a third plan if the waiver is approved but not for all elementary grade levels.

In the spring, Bowman teachers were available in online classrooms to work with students from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on school days. Virtual learning proved especially difficult for younger students, who are less tech-savvy and thus required more parent supervision, Ricks said.

Other private schools are applying for the waiver to keep their options open — especially as concrete details about how the waiver will work remain scarce — but are not sure that they would use it if approved.

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"We do not know if we want to open at all," said Angie Bergeson, Silicon Valley International School's head of school. "We want to stay as safe as possible. We wouldn't want to go against county health guidelines even if we could with a waiver."

But the majority of the private bilingual school's families want face-to-face instruction, Bergeson said. In June, only 10% of families said they prefer online learning. Parents have been urging the school to apply for a waiver, Bergeson said.

"Independent schools have parent communities that are really pressuring schools to reopen. It's putting independent schools in a particular bind knowing that they can apply for a waiver," Bergeson said.

Parent Raphael Michel, co-chair of Silicon Valley International School's board of directors, hopes his children, a rising third-grader and rising sixth-grader, will be able to safely attend school in person in the fall — more for their emotional development than academic, he said.

"You can get a good knowledge transfer in some conversation moderated by a well-trained educator on a video session but … all of that learning through playing they get when they're in the same classroom, when they have those in-person interactions, when they're on the playground — that social emotional development is at risk of being diminished," Michel said.

He said parents would "scratch their heads" if Silicon Valley International School obtained a waiver and decided not to use it, but they are placing their trust in the school's leadership to make the safest decision for students.

Silicon Valley International also created an advisory council, including parents and outside experts, to whom Bergeson said she'll turn if the school obtains a reopening waiver.

For now, the school has decided to offer only online learning for the first six weeks of school, regardless if its waiver is granted or if Santa Clara County gets off the state watchlist. The school pushed the start of school later by two weeks to allow time for students to come to campus to pick up supplies, safely meet their teachers and prepare for distance learning.

"We need to now control the situation and be able to say we know what we're doing. One of the hardest things about this for schools is this not knowing," Bergeson said. "Actually making the decision to do distance learning is the most effective and efficient for us to start school, but of course it's really crushing for independent schools to say that to their communities … They're paying tuition and they're wondering when their kindergartner starts distance learning, what is that going to look like?"

'We wouldn't want to go against county health guidelines even if we could with a waiver.'

-Angie Bergeson, head of school, Silicon Valley International School

Kathrin Röschel, principal of the German International School of Silicon Valley in Mountain View, said she plans to apply for the waiver but "only will use it when safety measures allow."

"We miss our students. We strongly believe in in-person instruction and the social component in learning, but we were also extremely successful with our distance-learning program in spring and will not put the health of our students, teachers and community in jeopardy," she wrote in an email.

The waivers, if granted, could further exacerbate inequities between public and private schools during the pandemic. Public schools must make the request "in consultation" with their labor unions, parents and community-based organizations, according to Newsom's office, while private schools can be more nimble.

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin said at a school board meeting this week that the district does not plan to apply for a waiver to reopen its elementary schools, despite the urging of several parent speakers.

"If waivers were the preferred path to reopen schools, we wouldn't have needed waivers. They would have just said, 'It's fine to go open your elementary schools.' They didn't," Austin said. "The idea of going around that process, through all the reasons that led to us being closed ... did not make sense for our district."

Private school leaders said they have heard little about how the waiver process will work or how long it will take. Some have been or are waiting to be assigned a liaison from the county's Office of Emergency Operations.

'If waivers were the preferred path to reopen schools, we wouldn't have needed waivers.'

-Don Austin, superintendent, Palo Alto school district

The office, meanwhile, has received little guidance from the state on how to evaluate waivers — only the publicly available Cal OSHA and California Department of Public Health guidelines for reopening schools, according to a county public information officer. Newsom's office said local health officials reviewing applications must "consider local data and consult with the California Department of Public Health."

"The county is still in the planning stages about how next to proceed about reviewing applications," the spokesperson said.

At Silicon Valley International School, which offers Mandarin Chinese-English and French-English programs, teachers are trying to think creatively about how to offer effective language instruction in this new era. Ideas have included virtual dinners with teachers in Mandarin or French and asking older students to play online games with younger students in the language they're studying. Even in person, masks will make it difficult to teach language, Bergeson said.

The reopening dilemma feels like "you're choosing between being punched in the stomach and punched in the face," Bergeson said. "The situation is really quite difficult for schools to make everybody happy."

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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Schools seek waiver so kids can return to campus

Amid pressure from parents, local private elementary schools are asking county for permission to reopen in person

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jul 30, 2020, 10:54 am

More than 80 local schools have contacted the Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Operations about filing a waiver to reopen their elementary campuses in person in the fall, including several on the Midpeninsula.

The waiver option — mentioned briefly in a press release sent by Gov. Gavin Newsom's office following his July 17 announcement that schools in counties being monitored by the state cannot not physically reopen, throwing many schools' plans into disarray — allows schools to seek an exception from their local county health officer.

Several local private elementary schools moved quickly to apply for a waiver, saying they felt confident that with more resources, smaller student populations and already detailed plans for how to safely reopen that they can and should bring their youngest students back for face-to-face instruction. They also have spent ample time — and money — to prepare their campuses for students' safe return to school.

Local schools that have confirmed they are seeking a waiver include Bowman School, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, Emerson School and Silicon Valley International School in Palo Alto, Pinewood School in Los Altos and the German International School of Silicon Valley in Mountain View.

"Our size allows flexibility in keeping staff and students safe using the guidelines provided by local and state authorities," Bowman Head of School MaryBeth Ricks said. "It's important to stress that we're going to be extremely responsible … but we're going to try every avenue to get especially the younger ones in person and not give up hope that we can be granted the waiver."

Before Newsom's announcement, Bowman had already brought some students back to school for a summer session with numerous precautions. Students were in stable cohorts of 12; students and staff had their temperatures and symptoms checked daily; all students older than first grade were required to wear masks all day; and all staff gathering areas were closed. A new volunteer task force, made up of Bowman parents who work in the medical field, advised Ricks on best practices for reopening.

"Everybody's been positive about" reopening schools in person, Ricks said of the parent-advisers, "based on our very, very strict plans."

Bowman is now developing three different contingency plans for the first day of school on Sept. 1: full distance learning, a hybrid model if the waiver is approved and a third plan if the waiver is approved but not for all elementary grade levels.

In the spring, Bowman teachers were available in online classrooms to work with students from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on school days. Virtual learning proved especially difficult for younger students, who are less tech-savvy and thus required more parent supervision, Ricks said.

Other private schools are applying for the waiver to keep their options open — especially as concrete details about how the waiver will work remain scarce — but are not sure that they would use it if approved.

"We do not know if we want to open at all," said Angie Bergeson, Silicon Valley International School's head of school. "We want to stay as safe as possible. We wouldn't want to go against county health guidelines even if we could with a waiver."

But the majority of the private bilingual school's families want face-to-face instruction, Bergeson said. In June, only 10% of families said they prefer online learning. Parents have been urging the school to apply for a waiver, Bergeson said.

"Independent schools have parent communities that are really pressuring schools to reopen. It's putting independent schools in a particular bind knowing that they can apply for a waiver," Bergeson said.

Parent Raphael Michel, co-chair of Silicon Valley International School's board of directors, hopes his children, a rising third-grader and rising sixth-grader, will be able to safely attend school in person in the fall — more for their emotional development than academic, he said.

"You can get a good knowledge transfer in some conversation moderated by a well-trained educator on a video session but … all of that learning through playing they get when they're in the same classroom, when they have those in-person interactions, when they're on the playground — that social emotional development is at risk of being diminished," Michel said.

He said parents would "scratch their heads" if Silicon Valley International School obtained a waiver and decided not to use it, but they are placing their trust in the school's leadership to make the safest decision for students.

Silicon Valley International also created an advisory council, including parents and outside experts, to whom Bergeson said she'll turn if the school obtains a reopening waiver.

For now, the school has decided to offer only online learning for the first six weeks of school, regardless if its waiver is granted or if Santa Clara County gets off the state watchlist. The school pushed the start of school later by two weeks to allow time for students to come to campus to pick up supplies, safely meet their teachers and prepare for distance learning.

"We need to now control the situation and be able to say we know what we're doing. One of the hardest things about this for schools is this not knowing," Bergeson said. "Actually making the decision to do distance learning is the most effective and efficient for us to start school, but of course it's really crushing for independent schools to say that to their communities … They're paying tuition and they're wondering when their kindergartner starts distance learning, what is that going to look like?"

Kathrin Röschel, principal of the German International School of Silicon Valley in Mountain View, said she plans to apply for the waiver but "only will use it when safety measures allow."

"We miss our students. We strongly believe in in-person instruction and the social component in learning, but we were also extremely successful with our distance-learning program in spring and will not put the health of our students, teachers and community in jeopardy," she wrote in an email.

The waivers, if granted, could further exacerbate inequities between public and private schools during the pandemic. Public schools must make the request "in consultation" with their labor unions, parents and community-based organizations, according to Newsom's office, while private schools can be more nimble.

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin said at a school board meeting this week that the district does not plan to apply for a waiver to reopen its elementary schools, despite the urging of several parent speakers.

"If waivers were the preferred path to reopen schools, we wouldn't have needed waivers. They would have just said, 'It's fine to go open your elementary schools.' They didn't," Austin said. "The idea of going around that process, through all the reasons that led to us being closed ... did not make sense for our district."

Private school leaders said they have heard little about how the waiver process will work or how long it will take. Some have been or are waiting to be assigned a liaison from the county's Office of Emergency Operations.

The office, meanwhile, has received little guidance from the state on how to evaluate waivers — only the publicly available Cal OSHA and California Department of Public Health guidelines for reopening schools, according to a county public information officer. Newsom's office said local health officials reviewing applications must "consider local data and consult with the California Department of Public Health."

"The county is still in the planning stages about how next to proceed about reviewing applications," the spokesperson said.

At Silicon Valley International School, which offers Mandarin Chinese-English and French-English programs, teachers are trying to think creatively about how to offer effective language instruction in this new era. Ideas have included virtual dinners with teachers in Mandarin or French and asking older students to play online games with younger students in the language they're studying. Even in person, masks will make it difficult to teach language, Bergeson said.

The reopening dilemma feels like "you're choosing between being punched in the stomach and punched in the face," Bergeson said. "The situation is really quite difficult for schools to make everybody happy."

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

Comments

Gohmert Pile
Whisman Station
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:22 am
Gohmert Pile, Whisman Station
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:22 am
18 people like this

Making money the old-fashion way - by commuting to work with the kids in school - and even if unsafe for children and others - is better than doing nothing. But doing nothing is not the only alternative. Did you notice who died today from Covid-19? Herman Cain- the "9-9-9" former candidate for President who got the virus a few weeks ago at a TRUMP RALLY. Do you know what harm is done to the organs of many virus carriers who never even notice symptoms of disease? August is no time to pile children into schools with hundreds or thousands of students. But we have been taught that money talks and death is inevitable. Death and suffering and incapacity. Oh well. Have a nice day.


JR
another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:23 pm
JR, another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:23 pm
8 people like this

Glad to see that many schools are implementing proper measures to protect against the virus and are now ready to reopen. These kids will be getting a first-class education, unlike the kids staying home.


Stephen Foster
St. Francis Acres
on Jul 30, 2020 at 2:15 pm
Stephen Foster, St. Francis Acres
on Jul 30, 2020 at 2:15 pm
5 people like this

It's a real shame that it is August 1 in 2 days and the state, county, and nation for that matter have little agreement about how to educate kids in this pandemic. The schools on the other hand know best how to safely handle their kids, and should therefore be given autonomy, especially since they are private. You want to begin protesting something different than what we've seen? Let's start marching in front of city halls demanding our kids get their lives and in-person education back.


Shut everything down.
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2020 at 4:33 pm
Shut everything down., Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2020 at 4:33 pm
1 person likes this

Everything must stop as we shelter in place, including education. That is what Sara Cody is telling us. The virus is sneaky and we are in the same situation we were in in March. So no work, no business, no schools no nothing u til we have herd immunity or a vaccine. SCC health knows what is best for all of us. We should sit quietly and obey.


Steven A.
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:08 pm
Steven A., Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:08 pm
3 people like this

"Pressure from the parents?" So what? They're not doctors! We have layer upon layer on layer of health experts and educators. Homeschoolers don't know better than health experts!


School Neighbor
Slater
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:57 pm
School Neighbor, Slater
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:57 pm
Like this comment

The arguments for socialization make sense for very young children and I can support that. However, they are less relevant for older children. And as a neighbor on a school street, I wonder about older children walking (unsupervised) to and from, and whether they will behave well with respect to virus protections. They may expose each other, their families, as well as people along their path.

Even if there was daily testing at school entries, tests are not 100% accurate, and the virus takes time to develop enough to be detected. So someone can be exposed and have the virus evolving internally, while undetected. As a result, individuals can spread the virus and there is no way to have groups with true assurance of safety.


Name hidden
Old Mountain View

on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:03 pm
Name hidden, Old Mountain View

on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:03 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Paul B.
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
4 hours ago
Paul B., Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
4 hours ago
Like this comment

I hope these measures will protect the kids. And I hope that pandemic will be over soon. I am so tired of it.


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