Palo Alto Unified asking parents to fill support staff positions stretched thin during pandemic

The push, called 1 Palo Alto, will put parent volunteers on campuses across the district.
PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- In the South Bay, an S.O.S. from Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) schools to parents. The district is looking for volunteers to fill spots left empty by staffing shortages and COVID-19 absences.

The push, called 1 Palo Alto, will put parent volunteers on campuses across the district beginning Wednesday.

PAUSD is asking parents to step up and fill support staff positions including assistance with the COVID Testing Clinic, food services, light custodial work, office assistance, and classroom support.

"A lot of the work we do to open a school district and keep it open is not glamorous work," PAUSD Superintendent Don Austin told ABC7 News. "And our parents, our parents came through."

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After Superintendent Austin posted a video request on Sunday night, close to 600 parents responded by Monday afternoon. Parent Shailo Rao was among those eager volunteers.

With two daughters at the district, he explained anything to keep them in-person is paramount.

"I mean, we talk about essential services and somewhere along the way schools got lost," Rao shared. "But schools are essential. Our kids' education is essential."

However, the push comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging, and after the district decided to stop sending out close contact letters to those facing potential exposure.

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There is growing concern that more Bay Area schools could return to remote learning as omicron cases rise.



Superintendent Austin cited logistical reasons, and pointed to the district's 380-plus cases just last week.

"Everyone should be operating as if they've come in contact with someone with the omicron variant," he said. "And in fact, I think getting a notice home every single day, that you may have come in contact, loses all value anyway."

"And could even distract from what we're really trying to accomplish, with focusing on the high leverage areas," Austin continued.

Parents told ABC7 News they're not concerned about having more people on-campus and around students, since volunteers are required to be vaccinated.

Supt. Austin assures volunteers will not be alone with students.

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Nallely Gomez, PAUSD parent and Palo Alto Council of PTAs Executive Board member, feels work will offer another level of understanding.

"I think like, we are able to see for firsthand what is going on the school," Gomez said. "How is the environment there?"

Beyond that, Gomez said the experience will offer kids a much needed showing of support during the on-going pandemic.

"I think, like for the kids especially, it's really important to see their parents being part of that," she shared. "They really appreciate that."

Rao added, "I think it'll be fun for our kids to see us doing all the above. Bumping into us on the playground, cleaning up. Hopefully not in the principal's office."

"It's gonna be fun. We're gonna learn a lot," he told ABC7 News. "For us, it's like a going back to school night. It's like throwing back the clock. We get to be in school again."

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Gomez and Rao agreed that it's important to know what their kids are up against, especially during the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, the request for parent volunteers wouldn't be out of the ordinary. However, the district said the campaign will give them a head start if the situation gets worse.

"Some people have said, 'Why are you doing this right now? You can stay open without it.' And that's true for today," Supt. Austin said. "But we weren't preparing for today, we're preparing for what could be."

Supt. Austin says parent volunteers could be on campuses as early as Wednesday.

For more information about 1 Palo Alto, click here.
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