News

Menlo Park district will apply for waiver to reopen public schools

A sign on the inside of the door of a classroom reads "ROOM IS ALREADY DISINFECTED DO NOT ENTER PLEASE 3-19-2020" at Encinal Elementary School in Atherton on July 28. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) will submit a waiver application to the San Mateo County public health department requesting permission to resume in-person instruction for kindergarteners and first graders, the district announced Sept 11.

The unanimous decision came in a vote during the district's Sept. 10 school board meeting, with a plan to apply for the waiver the following day. If approved by the public health department, the district's target opening date would be Sept. 28.

"The board feels that the academic and social-emotional risks to young students from being away from in-person learning outweigh potential health risks from bringing students back on campus," the district said in a statement. "Board members commented that the medical experts in this week’s panels concurred that MPCSD’s plan is comprehensive, safe, and that they see no reason not to reopen for kindergarten and first grade students at this time."

The Menlo Park City School District has applied for a waiver to allow it to reopen to kindergarten and first grade students for in-person classes later this month. File photo by Michelle Le

District officials said the next two weeks would be spent preparing classrooms, implementing staff testing to be coordinated through Stanford Health Care, and holding parent information sessions to explain what school will look like under the waiver.

A survey done by the district suggested a majority of parents support the return to school for kindergarteners and first graders. On Friday, Aug. 28, MPCSD sent a survey to all parents of K-1 students who opted for hybrid learning. When asked, "Would you send your child to school in person under a waiver?" 90.3% of respondents said yes and 9.7% said no.

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Although San Mateo County is currently on the state's "purple" or "widespread" tier for coronavirus case numbers, making county schools unable to open, elementary schools that successfully apply for the California Department of Public Health's waiver may be allowed to open. The waiver can apply to transitional kindergarten through sixth grade.

Menlo Park City School District, which has Oak Knoll, Encinal and Laurel elementary schools along with Hillview Middle School, announced in a July 30 board meeting that the district would start the fall semester fully online. The school year began on Aug. 20.

Some teachers not happy

Several teachers who spoke to The Almanac said they disagreed with district's decision to apply for a waiver, which could result in K-1 teachers going back to school if approved.

Sydney Merk, who teaches first grade at Encinal, said while she understand families' needs for childcare during the pandemic, she has health concerns abut returning to in-person instruction. "I realize I am immensely lucky, because the district has very rigorous safety program. But I am 55 years old and I have a mother in her 80s, and the county is still not off the watch list. That's not a risk I want to take," she said.

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Merk said that while she felt the teachers and students would likely return to school under the waiver, she was worried about how schooling will go. "There is so much interaction, between students and teachers during a normal school year, that won't be able to happen," she said. "I'm also concerned about students ability to learn reading when the teacher has a face mask on and kids can't see her mouth."

Teacher Elizabeth Harrison said she supports the reopening of schools and the district's decision this week.

"I feel very strongly that the small risk of contagion, illness or even death does not possibly weigh more strongly than my duty to serve the students and get them out of the house, off screens, back with their peers, learning in person, eye to eye with their teachers," she said. "Excessive screen time and online learning is detrimental to students' health and development. We are paid very well in this district to serve the children and I don't agree with any factions of teachers who choose to avoid this work due to fear or hysteria."

Grant Conour, president of the Menlo Park Education Association, said in a statement emailed to The Almanac that he was confident that teaching staff would "provide their students with the high-quality education that Menlo Park City School District is known for."

"We will continue to work together with the board and the superintendent to minimize risk to the community to the extent possible, and in turn ask for the cooperation and compliance of the Menlo Park community with state and county health guidelines to help keep our schools safe," he said.

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Menlo Park district will apply for waiver to reopen public schools

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Sep 11, 2020, 5:56 pm

The Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) will submit a waiver application to the San Mateo County public health department requesting permission to resume in-person instruction for kindergarteners and first graders, the district announced Sept 11.

The unanimous decision came in a vote during the district's Sept. 10 school board meeting, with a plan to apply for the waiver the following day. If approved by the public health department, the district's target opening date would be Sept. 28.

"The board feels that the academic and social-emotional risks to young students from being away from in-person learning outweigh potential health risks from bringing students back on campus," the district said in a statement. "Board members commented that the medical experts in this week’s panels concurred that MPCSD’s plan is comprehensive, safe, and that they see no reason not to reopen for kindergarten and first grade students at this time."

District officials said the next two weeks would be spent preparing classrooms, implementing staff testing to be coordinated through Stanford Health Care, and holding parent information sessions to explain what school will look like under the waiver.

A survey done by the district suggested a majority of parents support the return to school for kindergarteners and first graders. On Friday, Aug. 28, MPCSD sent a survey to all parents of K-1 students who opted for hybrid learning. When asked, "Would you send your child to school in person under a waiver?" 90.3% of respondents said yes and 9.7% said no.

Although San Mateo County is currently on the state's "purple" or "widespread" tier for coronavirus case numbers, making county schools unable to open, elementary schools that successfully apply for the California Department of Public Health's waiver may be allowed to open. The waiver can apply to transitional kindergarten through sixth grade.

Menlo Park City School District, which has Oak Knoll, Encinal and Laurel elementary schools along with Hillview Middle School, announced in a July 30 board meeting that the district would start the fall semester fully online. The school year began on Aug. 20.

Some teachers not happy

Several teachers who spoke to The Almanac said they disagreed with district's decision to apply for a waiver, which could result in K-1 teachers going back to school if approved.

Sydney Merk, who teaches first grade at Encinal, said while she understand families' needs for childcare during the pandemic, she has health concerns abut returning to in-person instruction. "I realize I am immensely lucky, because the district has very rigorous safety program. But I am 55 years old and I have a mother in her 80s, and the county is still not off the watch list. That's not a risk I want to take," she said.

Merk said that while she felt the teachers and students would likely return to school under the waiver, she was worried about how schooling will go. "There is so much interaction, between students and teachers during a normal school year, that won't be able to happen," she said. "I'm also concerned about students ability to learn reading when the teacher has a face mask on and kids can't see her mouth."

Teacher Elizabeth Harrison said she supports the reopening of schools and the district's decision this week.

"I feel very strongly that the small risk of contagion, illness or even death does not possibly weigh more strongly than my duty to serve the students and get them out of the house, off screens, back with their peers, learning in person, eye to eye with their teachers," she said. "Excessive screen time and online learning is detrimental to students' health and development. We are paid very well in this district to serve the children and I don't agree with any factions of teachers who choose to avoid this work due to fear or hysteria."

Grant Conour, president of the Menlo Park Education Association, said in a statement emailed to The Almanac that he was confident that teaching staff would "provide their students with the high-quality education that Menlo Park City School District is known for."

"We will continue to work together with the board and the superintendent to minimize risk to the community to the extent possible, and in turn ask for the cooperation and compliance of the Menlo Park community with state and county health guidelines to help keep our schools safe," he said.

Comments

teacher, MPCSD
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Sep 12, 2020 at 3:56 pm
teacher, MPCSD, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 3:56 pm
35 people like this

I am a primary teacher in MPCSD. Many of the teachers are extremely upset and literally shedding tears over the decision made last night. We feel like the board doesn't have respect for our professional opinion. The union asked last week for the board to wait to open school until the watchlist is lifted. We feel it is unsafe to be working in a room all day with students. They do not understand the logistics of the classroom. Also, the first grade asked that if we do go back that it be half day in the morning and Zoom in the afternoon. It's not to get out of doing work. In fact we are working harder than ever this year - many of us working 12 hour days. We just know from years of experience that staying apart and whole group teaching isn't good for our students. Imagine coming to class at age 5-6, seeing your teacher dressed in scrubs and a mask behind plexi glass, telling you NOT to come close to her or your friends, sit at your desk all day and have a lesson taught to you that is not at your level. It's not safe. It's not friendly. It's not good teaching. It's so infuriating that some parents and some board members not only don't listen to us, but make comments about us being lazy and not working when the exact opposite is true. It also would have been nice to have a plan like other districts and companies in the Bay Area who said no matter what they aren't coming back until X time. That way families and teachers could plan their lives a bit. I have never been so proud of my colleagues and so disappointed in a school board.


teacher
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:01 pm
teacher, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:01 pm
35 people like this

Thanks a lot school board. Encinal and Laurel teachers just received an exposure notice today. And so it begins....
And to the parents who call us lazy, I and several others are at work right now on a Saturday preparing lessons for your children! We all went to graduate school for this job. We risk our lives for this job. We work long hours for this job. How dare you speak negatively of any teacher in this district. I spoke to many teachers who are in TEARS over this decision. So scary. Parents, be supportive of your child's teacher right now. Some of them are literally scared to death.


Not good teaching
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:07 pm
Not good teaching, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:07 pm
60 people like this

Yes, Zoom teaching isn't ideal. But at least kids can see their teacher face to face and have 1:1 or small group instruction. What's worse? Coming back in a pandemic. Sitting 30 feet away from your teacher who can't walk to your desk because she can't pass the other students are rick exposure. She can't help you with your pencil grip. She says sternly to stay away from her. You can'd play with your friends. You can't meet in small groups. You can't get intensive help from the teacher or aide. The board doesn't work in the classrooms. The teachers do. LISTEN TO THE TEACHERS! Doctors don't understand that controlling one child in a sterile doctor's office is manageable. A classroom with a room of children for hours a day without less PPE than a doctor is unfair. I hope to God there isn't a break out.


concerned
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:15 pm
concerned, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:15 pm
11 people like this

Why is this even being considered?

Web Link


teacher
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:28 pm
teacher, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:28 pm
24 people like this

"Some teachers" not happy? Try MOST! That's why we decided as a union to wait until the watchlist is lifted at the very least. Even when I'm on the fence sometimes on issues, I stand with my union because I want what's best for the majority of my colleagues. What's best right now is for THE TEACHERS to feel safe. Remember? Those ones that do this job?!


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 12, 2020 at 9:26 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 9:26 pm
20 people like this

I am curious as to what difference it would make being on or off the Watchlist at this point. My understanding is that San Mateo County is only on the Watch list because they have slightly more than 7 new cases per 100,000 people. If that is the case it does not sound like being on the list is really a thing to block the school reopening. The County Health Officer would have to agree before approving the waiver and I understand that the health experts consulted by the School Board also agree that opening can be done safely. At this point I think the best course of action would be to determine what needs to be done to keep everyone as safe as possible.


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 14, 2020 at 2:17 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 2:17 pm
9 people like this

I hate to say this but the fact that there has been no follow up on this combined with the pseudonyms and the same community for 4 of the posters "Atherton: other" leads me to believe that this is a single unhappy person, maybe not even a teacher, that has made these posts.

I am looking forward the the parent meeting on the return to school of Kindergartners and First graders. I would also like to hear from teachers and staff if the precautions that are being taken are sufficient and what else, short of not returning, could be done to make them feel safer.


kblocker
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Sep 14, 2020 at 4:02 pm
kblocker, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 4:02 pm
9 people like this

I have family members who are teachers so I do understand the dilemma they face. But I have yet to hear when the teachers will be willing and happy to return to the physical classroom. At some point everyone will have to take a deep breath and go forward. Sorry to say that I think some teachers may have to rethink their career path and resign or be fired. I realize we are all waiting for a sure fire vaccine, but when???


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 14, 2020 at 4:56 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 4:56 pm
8 people like this

In my opinion the key to safe in-person classes is the ability to test every student, teacher and staff member every day and have the results available within minutes.

That technology exists but the federal government has utterly failed to make it widely available.

Without such testing in person teaching becomes a dangerous game of random chance.

We don't ask blind people to fight wildland fires because you cannot fight something that you cannot see.

Without rapid response testing we cannot see the outbreaks of the virus.


parent
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 14, 2020 at 5:15 pm
parent, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 5:15 pm
25 people like this

I am a parent of older elementary school kids in Menlo Park (not in kindergarten or first). I am supportive of the district's decision, which I'm sure was difficult. I have a niece in kindergarten in a different district, and distance kindergarten is very difficult. Much more difficult than distance learning for my kids in older elementary grades (not like it's a cakewalk for us!).

I understand that in-person school will be challenging as well, with the new requirements for masks and distancing, but I have been surprised by how well young children have been, for the most part, very compliant with mask requirements in preschool and daycare contexts. The kids seem to be adjusting better than many adults.

Teaching is an important and hard job, and I appreciate the wonderful teachers at our Menlo Park schools. The kindergarten and first grade teachers who taught our kids are heroes in our household. As much as I understand that individuals are worried for their health and the health of their families -- we all are -- being an elementary school teacher is an in-person job that is an essential function in our society.

Many people are working in person right now because they provide important services to our society: day care providers, bus drivers, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, dentists, orthodontists, grocery store workers, factory workers, mail and delivery services, firefighters, police officers, and the list goes on. Some of these services did close down right at the beginning, such as dentists and many day cares. But they have reopened since (a) we've been able to improve safety, even though still not as much as we would like; and (b) we've determined that we need to have an functioning society even while navigating the ongoing risks that covid poses.

One of the teachers commented indicated that doctors aren't taking risks as much as teachers are. I can't tell if this teacher knows how mistaken this is -- maybe the post was written by someone who hasn't been going to medical appointments, or not with kids? Doctors, nurses and dentists are interacting just as closely with people -- or more -- as the teachers would in their classrooms. We've visited multiple health care providers in the past months. Parents and kids sit in very small rooms together with medical providers for long periods of time, and patients open their mouths for both doctors and dentists. The medical providers we've seen have been wearing ordinary surgical masks, which are commonly available. And the medical providers are seeing many different people every day in these small spaces.

I don't have data on this, but my sense from friends and relatives is that more parents of kindergarteners and 1st graders are seeking alternative sources of childcare than are parents of older children. I know of several preschools in the Bay Area (in a different district) that are offering extended months of preschool for kindergarteners. More friends are sending their kids to Newton or Growfit if they have younger kids. Or hiring babysitters/pod tutors for the younger kids. The important in-person work of teaching and caring for these young students will happen by someone -- and some health risk will be taken by that person -- and it would be of better quality, and probably safer, if provided by the teachers through the local schools.

These are hard choices, and I'm sure that the school board and district weighed them carefully. None of us wants to be making any of the choices we're all being forced to make during the pandemic. I wish things were different -- that we had a coordinated national response led by a responsible president, more testing, more individual responsibility not to have social gatherings, etc. But we are where we are. And given our choices available for the young learners and educational professionals, all of which are bad in different ways, this seems like the least bad choice to make.


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