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During a special board meeting on Thursday, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) decided on a solution that would serve the roughly 600 students who have expressed they're uncomfortable with returning to in-person instruction. The number was taken from results of a survey by the district.
"That's not a binding number until next week," Superintendent Don Austin told ABC7 News. "We'll redo the survey and make it an actual commitment."
After unanimous approval on a contract with a third-party service, students who don't want to be in a classroom this fall will be taught remotely by instructors with Stride Learning Solutions.
"We're going to contract out with professionals who do this is their sole purpose," Superintendent Austin shared. "Typically, when a person does one job, they do it better than the person that's trying to do three or four."
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Every public school district is now required to offer a remote learning option to those who feel they would be put at risk by returning in-person. This is part of a new law passed by Governor Gavin Newsom on July 9.
Supt. Austin calls the change a "late curveball."
"It will be by the skin of our teeth to get students registered, in place, rostered and up to speed on something new," he told ABC7 News. "I don't know what our legislators think it takes to run a school district, but if they think they could spin up something in three weeks, they are out of touch."
The estimated cost of the program is about $3,000 per student with an anticipated total cost of $1.8-million, based on a 6-percent enrollment.
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Supt. Austin says PAUSD was the first in the county to bring back students, in October 2020. He explained, during that time, the district had zero transmission or spread at any level.
"That was pre vaccinations. So, we continue to believe school sites are the safest places you can be," he added.
The students who are choosing the distance learning option will have to stay at a distance, when it comes to extracurricular activities.
"If the concern or the risk is enough to miss in-person instruction, it's more than enough to miss extracurricular activities, including athletics and performing visual arts," Supt. Austin told ABC7 News. "It would make no sense for one to be okay and the other not."
Austin emphasized the district values all of its students.
"While we're here to focus our teachers with the 95-percent that are here, we're also going to support the 5-percent that aren't," the superintendent shared. "We respect their choice. It's not their fault. We want them to be just as successful."