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Superintendent’s Update

November 19th, 2020

Dear Students and Families,

The table and Frequently Asked Questions sections (below) are cut directly from a presentation from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department presentation to all superintendents on Tuesday.  I have not changed a single word from the presentation information.



What does it mean for a school to be “open” under the school reopening framework?

  • The school reopening framework set the rules for when “Schools and school districts may reopen for in-person instruction.”
  • The term “open” or “reopen,” as used in the framework, refers to operations that are permitted only if the county satisfies the eligibility requirements for schools to “open” or “reopen” (i.e., red tier for 14+ days).
  • This is in contrast to activities permitted under the Cohorting Guidance even for schools that are not permitted to reopen under the July 17 school reopening framework. Schools that were operating only in the manner permitted under the Cohorting Guidance are therefore not “open” under the July 17 framework.
  • For example, a school serving 10 students for in-person instruction under the cohorting guidance is not “open” for in-person instruction, since such operations are permitted regardless of the school reopening framework.

When will school sites that have not reopened be eligible to reopen for in-person instruction?

  • Under the State’s K-12 Reopening Framework and the State’s Blueprint, a county must be in the Red Tier (equivalent of being off the County Monitoring List) for 14 days for schools in that county to be eligible to reopen for in-person instruction.

If my county is in purple tier, what can my school do to serve students in person?

  • Small Cohorts: Under State’s small cohort guidance, schools can offer “limited instruction, targeted support services, and facilitation of distance learning in small group environments for a specified subset of children and youth.”
  • Waiver: Schools may apply for a waiver from the Local Health Officer to open for in-person instruction to students in grades K-6.


As previously stated and confirmed in the information from the Public Health Department (above), our elementary schools have already opened and will remain in operation.  Our local cases are very low and schools are functioning at a high level with established routines.  Parents will hear from their elementary school sites soon to discuss the transfer window for families interested in returning to hybrid or moving to distance learning in January.  Details about the process will come from our site principals.

We have asked our elementary principals to assess the need for additional PAUSD+ spots for students.  We will have additional staffing in place within the next few weeks on sites or clusters.  Expect more information from our site principals.

High School
The move to the Purple Tier was unexpected by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  We have 30 days from today before our Winter Recess.  Before schools can open, they need to be in the Red Tier for 14 consecutive days.  Our Thanksgiving Break is only a few days away.  This is all to say, despite our local low transmission rates, it is highly unlikely we can navigate a return for our high school students by January 7.  Due to the enormous hurdle of scheduling that existed prior to our move to the Purple Tier, I want to foreshadow the reality that we may be headed for a second semester in distance learning.

Our principals are meeting this week to review the data from our instructional model (hybrid/distance learning) process.  We will look at ways to increase on-campus access for those who had hoped to return to hybrid.  We are requesting a little space to evaluate our current conditions, work with our associations, and regroup.  More information will follow our Thanksgiving Break.

Middle School
Like our high schools, middle schools were also not open prior to our move to the Purple Tier.  As a result, our middle schools are also currently prohibited from opening. Middle school scheduling of students is also complicated.  We may have an opportunity to explore options to return some portion of middle school students at a later date during second semester.  Again, problem-solving is in motion. 

We have an eye to the future and believe we have an opportunity to reimagine summer school and the fall.  We have time to prepare and gather input.  We have started conversations with our associations about how to reach out beyond the traditional negotiations process.  We will do the same with our families.

Superintendant’s Update

November 16, 2020

To All Families,

Governor Newsom has designated Santa Clara County to the Purple Tier due to an increase in cases.  We were previously told to expect a move to the Red Tier tomorrow, November 17.  Instead, our county moved two levels without notice.

With limited time, I wanted to share the best information available.  PAUSD has followed the Public Health Department guidelines since March and will continue in the future.  I have been in communication with our PAEA president and our principals prior to writing the letter. 

Our elementary schools were open to 2,100 students prior to the county shift to the Purple Tier.  As previously shared, the rise in cases are predominantly due to areas of the county far from Palo Alto.  We will follow California’s localized solution to measure the spread of illness in our schools and determine when a school or District closure is required.  Our elementary schools have demonstrated an ability to follow rules, maintain distancing, and operate within cohorts.  They will remain open at this point in time, per the Public Health Department guidelines.

Our secondary school families are selecting between the hybrid and distance learning programs this week.  Our secondary schools are not considered open to the same degree as our elementary schools.  Special Education and PAUSD+ may remain open.  We would like families to continue the selection process in the event we return to the Red or Orange level before the second semester.  If we remain in the Purple Tier, secondary schools will remain in the status quo (distance learning only). 

I understand there will be many questions.  I will be in contact with the agencies who guide us and will provide updates throughout the week.


Don Austin
Superintendent of Schools



excerpt from 10/23 Friday Memo by Dr. Don Austin, PAUSD Superintendent

  • Oct 19 –Planning day with all secondary principals
                  Preliminary survey sent to all secondary students and families
  • Oct 21 – PTAC meeting
  • Oct 22 – Visitation of secondary schools already open for in-person instruction
  • Oct 26 – Superintendent with secondary school PTA Presidents
  • Oct 27 – Secondary teachers survey
  • Oct 29 – Second survey to students and families
  • Nov 2 – Secondary principals planning meeting
  • Nov 10 – Regular Board of Education meeting
  • Nov 11 – Secondary instructional model window opens for families
  • Dec 14 – Students receive schedules
  • January – Students begin return to school prioritizing grades 6 and 12

The calendar does not reflect site communication and outreach efforts. The timeline also does not reflect meetings and work done internally with Instructional Leads and individual teachers. Informational webinars with site staff will occur prior to November 11. 


excerpt from 10/23 Friday Memo by Dr. Don Austin, PAUSD Superintendent

We appreciate the 5,493 responses to our recent survey, including 1,748 from our students.  Roughly 2/3 of respondents are interested in some form of live streaming, although we did receive requests for more information and clarification of terms. About half of our respondents indicated they need more information. When pressed for a non-binding response, roughly 60% indicated a desire to return to some form of in-person instruction. The complete survey and results can be found HERE. Use the tabs at the top to navigate.