About 540 students will return to classrooms in Atherton and Menlo Park next week.
The San Mateo County health department gave the Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) the green light to resume in-person kindergarten and first grader classes starting on Monday, Sept. 28, according to a Sept. 23 district press release. This makes the district's three elementary schools: Encinal, Laurel and Oak Knoll, the first public schools in the county to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"The K-1 students will join most vulnerable learners who have returned to school as part of the Governor's specialized cohorting guidance," according to the district statement. "The District was well positioned to apply for the waiver, having developed a comprehensive Reopening Plan in August, based on health and safety protocols from California Department of Public Health and San Mateo County Health Department."
The district requires face coverings for all staff and students, physical distancing and limiting gatherings, according to the state.
"The district's strict health and safety protocols in many areas exceed the state and county requirements, most notably in requiring all students and staff to wear face coverings while at school, and a robust weekly staff COVID testing program in partnership with Stanford Health Care," the according to the statement.
Classes will serve only as many students can be separated by six feet distancing, according to a report prepared by district staff for a Sept. 10 school board meeting.
Kindergartners will attend classes on either a.m. or p.m. schedules to accommodate smaller groups, with 10-12 students in each group, said Parke Treadway, the district's public information officer.
First grade staffing will be increased to provide smaller class sizes, the report states. First grade classes will be capped at 16 students. First graders will attend class from 9 a.m. to noon, but the school day may be extended later after initial phase-in and review from teachers about what is working and what needs to be adapted. Distance learning, likely for smaller reading groups and specialists, would then be scheduled for the afternoon.
The district has also offered a distance learning option to its families, the Virtual Academy, and families enrolled in that option will remain with distance learning even as the hybrid model students return to their schools.
The district's school board voted to apply for a waiver to reopen during its Sept. 10 meeting. The district applied for the waiver on Sept. 11.
The county moved out of the most restrictive purple or "widespread" risk tier to the red or "substantial" risk tier on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
"MPCSD looks forward to the next phase in its reopening as it simultaneously also plans for the effects of San Mateo County being moved yesterday into the Red Tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Should the county data keep us in the Red Tier for two weeks, schools in the county will be allowed to reopen in person for all grades without a waiver."
A district survey suggested a majority of parents support the return to school for kindergartners and first graders. On 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.
The school board has scheduled a special meeting on Oct. 1 at 5 p.m. on Zoom to discuss how to proceed with further return of its students.