Arizona school districts face decisions aplenty on reopening

Arizona educators are planning how public schools will reopen in the coming school year amid the coronavirus pandemic, and some districts already have decided that changes will include limiting what days students will be at school.

Two Phoenix-area elementary school districts, Cartwright and Alhambra, have decided to have students at schools only four days a week, a step intended partly to provide more time to clean campuses.

But even those districts and others are still considering numerous other concerns and ideas, such as whether some students will learn from home and whether those students who do go to campus will undergo health screenings.

RELATED: Arizona districts discuss plans for next school year

Yuma Union High School District Superintendent Gina Thompson said it takes time to settle on a workable plan without causing confusion, particularly amid the pandemic’s evolving circumstances.

Michael Penca, Flagstaff Unified’s superintendent, said it’s been helpful to have the summer to prepare for reopening. That’s unlike in March when educators were quickly forced to transition to working off-site and launching emergency remote learning.

Arizona schools closed in March as part the wider shutdown of much of the economy and public life due to the virus.

On June 1, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman released guidelines for reopening schools.

The guidelines provided suggestions on cleaning, limiting large groups, possibly wearing masks and many other details. but left it up to districts to decide whether to restart traditional classes or switch to partly or fully digital models.

MORE: Arizona Department of Education releases guidelines for reopening schools

Arizona schools generally begin reopening for the new school year in August.

Penca said the Flagstaff district’s goal is to have solid decisions on a reopening plan by the next school board meeting set for June 23, so the district can begin providing families with more information.

The district also plans to launch a new registration process in July to allow families to indicate whether they prefer in-person learning, distance leaning or intermittent distance.

Officials for the Cartwright and Alhambra districts said they chose their new schedules after balancing the need to protect students and families from COVID-19 with meeting students’ academic and social needs.

Cartwright will schedule schools to be open Monday through Thursday and no school on Friday, while Alhambra will hold classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday but students will learn at home on Wednesday.

The four-day school weeks may pose time and monetary challenges to parents who have to adjust their own schedules or pay for child care.

Two of Megan Christensen’s three children will attend Cartwright schools in the upcoming year. She is a teacher at a different district and expects to work five days a week.

Cartwright Superintendent LeeAnn Aguilar-Lawlor said parents afraid of sending their child to school because of the coronavirus will have a distance learning option.

“We still have parents that we know that are frightened to send their students to school,” she said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Mark Yslas, Alhambra’s superintendent, said it may be difficult to make temperature checks of 1,000 children but that may be an option for days deemed to be of high COVID-19 risk.

“We believe giving the teachers and those that work at the school sites a break on Wednesdays every week is going to be better for the stress and for their anxiety,” he said.

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