Since being the first school district to open in the state with online instruction for all students on July 21, the Apache Junction Unified School District has planned for the eventual return to in-school learning for students. On Thursday, August 27, the AJUSD Governing Board approved the district’s plan to move towards fully reopening schools starting with a Hybrid Model. The Hybrid Model phase begins from September 8 until September 25. At the September 22 meeting, the Governing Board will review plans for in-person learning starting October 12. In addition to the Hybrid Model, students may select to stay with their online learning model.
“We are happy to see the county’s health metrics in regards to COVID-19 reach levels that our Governing Board recognized as warranting the district to move into the next phase of reopening our schools,” said AJUSD Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson.
Arizona Governor Ducey’s Executive Order on June 23 recommended that schools not reopen for in-person instruction until benchmarks are met as established by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. Benchmarks are classified into minimal, moderate, and substantial transmission categories as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and align with the Arizona Department of Education’s Roadmap for Reopening Schools.
In the Benchmarks for Safely Returning to In-Person Instruction, ADHS recommends schools consider the county-specific public health benchmarks that provide recent information about community transmission. These include benchmarks around new cases, diagnostic test percent positivity, and COVID-19 related hospitalizations. For the initial reopening of a hybrid based model that offers both virtual and in-person learning, ADHS recommends the following county-level benchmarks:
- Cases: a two-week decline in weekly average cases OR two weeks below 100 cases per 100,000 population
- Diagnostic test percent positivity: two weeks with positivity below 7%
- COVID-19-Like-Illness Syndromic Surveillance: two weeks with less than 10% of hospital visits due to COVID-like illness
The Pinal County metrics have shown that two of the categories, new cases, and COVID-19 related hospitalizations have held steady for two weeks in the minimal transmission range. Diagnostic test percent positivity is showing a decline but is still in the moderate range. However, this is satisfactory to open schools with the Hybrid Model.
AJUSD’s Hybrid Model will consist of students being allowed on their school campus for two days, and at home for three days with online learning. Though the Hybrid Model allows students on their school campus, the student is learning virtually. Only half of the school population will be on campus daily. While students are at their school, they will be grouped in a cohort, meaning they will be with other students who live in their neighborhoods and will remain with this group the entire time while they are on the school grounds.
Safety precautions at the school will include temperature checks for all students, as well as mandatory face masks or shields, hand-washing, and social distancing. Movement on campus is limited for students on each campus. Elementary students will have their lunch, for example, brought to them in their homerooms. Recess will be restricted to a few students from that cohorted classroom at a time.
Secondary students, junior high and high school will report to their first-period classroom when they arrive on campus. Signage will direct the flow of students around the campus grounds. No groups of students will be allowed to socialize together. The cafeteria will have a phased opening to reduce the number of students in the cafeteria at any one time. Like the elementary schools, temperature checks will be given to each student. Face masks or face shields are mandatory, and hand-washing and social distancing will be monitored.
Parents will receive additional information and updates from the district for the Hybrid Model and in-person school reopening.