Here’s how Palo Alto Unified is supporting families in need during distance learning | News | Palo Alto Online |

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Stacks of textbooks cover the bleachers at Gunn High School’s gym. Palo Alto Unified offered drive-thru pickup of basic school supplies before classes started Aug. 17. Courtesy Don Austin/Palo Alto Unified School District.

Feeling an “even greater urgency” to address student and family needs while schools remain physically closed this fall, Palo Alto Unified is providing free meals, laptops, Wi-Fi hot spots, parent education and other support services that go beyond what the district might normally do during a traditional academic year.

“Factors such as job insecurity, lack of financial resources, access to meals, language barriers, and difficulty navigating school expectations have impacted many families and created challenges that can have an impact on student learning,” Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Student Affairs Lana Conaway wrote in a report on the district’s plan to support families during distance learning, which the school board will discuss Tuesday evening.

The district is continuing to work to meet families’ basic needs by distributing free meals at drive-thru sites at Gunn High School, Greene Middle School and JLS Middle School as well as via home deliveries. On the first day of school last week, the district gave out about 100 meals and delivered another 95 meals, according to Conaway’s report. District staff are delivering free meals to the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park daily, and they plan to add delivery to child care facilities operating at the elementary schools starting this week.

Every student who needs a laptop at home will receive one, the district said. Families who have limited or no internet access can also request a free Wi-Fi hot spot, which are limited and will be prioritized for families “facing financial barriers,” the report states.

All schools also offered drive-thru pickup of basic school supplies, from textbooks to paper and pencils, before online classes started last week. The district is reaching out directly to families who didn’t pick up supplies and will arrange home delivery if they can’t come themselves in person.

Palo Alto Unified also has formed a new parent education advisory committee, made up of nine parents and two teachers on special assignment (TOSAs), to make recommendations to the superintendent regarding parent education.

The district has partnered with three outside providers to offer child care to transitional kindergarten through fifth-grade students. One provider is offering “deeply discounted rates” as low as $25 per day, Conaway said in her report, and the district is looking for other ways to provide financial support for families in need.

In other business at the school board’s first regular (though still virtual) meeting of the 2020-21 school year on Tuesday, board members will hear an update on the district’s compliance with public health requirements, including social distancing, training and COVID-19 screening.