School districts planning ahead as Arizona sees spike in COVID-19 cases

With COVID-19 cases spiking across the country and in Arizona, many school districts are planning ahead, just in case they need to transition back to online or hybrid learning.

Some schools are already doing that hybrid model of learning, with some students in person, others at home learning online, but more students could be learning at home depending on how things go.

"That hybrid model allows for smaller class sizes, social distancing, and so that hybrid model is really powerful," said Maricopa County School Superintendent Steve Watson.

Wayson says educators want to do what is best for the students and families.

"The emphasis, really, is on what is best for families and kids," said Watson.

Watson says the ideal scenario is to have all in-person learning, like normal, but with COVID-19, that simply is not feasible.

In terms of hybrid learning, Paradise Valley Unified School District is an example of a district using such a model. Superintendent Dr. Jesse Welsh says currently, about 40% to 60% of students are back on campus, but if those case numbers reach a certain point, he says there is always the potential to transition back to full-time online learning for all students.

"If we see a case rate that is above 100 cases per 100,000 persons, or a positivity rate above 10%, then we would transition back to online learning," said Welsh.

The transition, Welsh says, should be more seamless than it was in the spring, 
with many teachers and students already accustomed to learning online. Welsh, however, says none of this is easy.

“I don’t know that it ever gets any easier, the good thing is that you continue to learn from your circumstances and adapt as you’re going," said Welsh.

Some school districts, like the Casa Grande Elementary School District in Pinal County, have announced a return to virtual learning due to a large number of covid cases in the area.

"Having to shut down again was really emotional as well," said Superintendent Dr. Joetta Gonzalez. "Our teachers love our kids, want to be with them."

Dr. Gonzalez says they have already received plenty of complaints from parents.

"It’s hard for parents trying to teach kids at home. They also say their kids enjoy being in school, as opposed to trying to learn something at home," said Dr. Gonzalez.

Decisions in terms of using hybrid learning or online learning will be made on a district-by-district basis.