How new laws affect online instruction - AZEdNews
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How new laws affect online instruction

A Teacher Greets Students On The First Day Of Online Learning At Asante Prep In Dysart Schools In Aug. 2020. Photo Courtesy Dysart School District

Part 3 of the Back to school during a COVID surge series.

While many students are back on campus for in-person learning, some found online learning works well for their needs and will take part in one of the 120 Arizona Online Instruction programs provided by public school districts approved by the Arizona State Board of Education for this school year.

“We continue to have both in person and online class options to ensure flexible opportunities for families,” said Renée Ryon, director of communications and public relations for Dysart Unified School District.

Dysart Unified’s iSchool has been in place at the high school level in Dysart since 2012 to provide flexible class options, Ryon said. The most popular online high school courses for the past two years have been Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment courses as well as American Sign Language, Intro to Fashion and Interior Design, Life Skills, Nutrition and Wellness, Personal Psychology, and Social Media, she said. 

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A Kingswood Elementary student on the first day of online learning at Dysart Unified in August 2020. Photo courtesy Dysart Schools

Last year, Dysart introduced iSchool online options for K-8 students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryon said.

“In 2020-2021, roughly 15 to 20% of families chose online classes for their students. This year’s full-time online student numbers have dropped significantly compared to last year – with less than 2% of families choosing online classes,” Ryon said.

Dysart’s online programs are currently at capacity, based on staffing, and are no longer accepting enrollment at this time, Ryon said.

Casa Grande Elementary School District Online Learning Academy (CGOLA) is our state approved Arizona Online Instruction program, said Supt. JoEtta Gonzales.

“We currently have about 200 students enrolled in grades K-8,” Supt. Gonzales said.

The school offers quality online academic instruction, flexible learning schedules, a focus on STEM, opportunities for students to explore their interests, small class sizes, and an emphasis on connecting learning to students’ daily lives. 

“A unique feature of CGOLA is the ability to offer in-person learning, socializing, and extra support from campus. All teachers have a physical classroom space where they can teach their online lessons, but also host students for optional intervention, enrichment, projects, and fun,” Supt. Gonzales said.

“While on campus, students have access to a Makerspace complete with 3D printers, robotics, and the supplies needed for their creativity to come alive,” Supt. Gonzales said.

The library is open at various times throughout the week and the playground equipment is available for recreation.

“We’re excited about the future and how this school can evolve to be a center of community activity,” Supt. Gonzales said.

Karla Escamilla, senior communications coordinator for Tucson Unified School District, said, “We are confident that our staff and schools are ready to welcome our students back full time and in person, while also giving families the option do continue remotely from home with our new Tucson Unified Virtual Academy. We are excited to see all our staff and students return to campus and be fully engaged in their school and education options.”

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A teacher greets students on the first day of online learning at Asante Prep in Dysart Schools in Aug. 2020. Photo courtesy Dysart School District

Tucson Unified’s Catalina Online Learning Experience, analternative, self-paced high school designed to allow students to complete course requirements at their own pace to fit their life, is an approved Arizona Online Instruction program that saw significantly more students enrolled during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Michael Beck, COLE coordinator.

“Last year, 2020-2021, we had approximately 1,200 students enrolled. About 400 full-time COLE students and 700 concurrently enrolled students. Those 700 students are enrolled at another high school and taking COLE for 1 to 2 classes,” Beck said. “We typically have about 100-150 full-time students and 300-400 concurrently enrolled students.”

Core academic courses, health and physical education are the most popular courses, Beck said.

“COLE is 100% virtual.  We have two learning labs students can use housed at Catalina High School.  These labs allow students to be in a school, do their work, but get help from a teacher if need be. Last year, due to safety protocols the learning labs closed; however, students still completed all classes,” Beck said.

As he starts his third year as coordinator for COLE, Beck said, “I continue to be impressed by the students we have.”

“Some of our students have tried other schools, charter schools, or other alternative schools. Some of our students come with a lot of trauma they have endured, not just COVID. Some of our kids have children. Some come from broken homes or are in the foster care system. Some are living on their own. Some work full-time jobs to support their families so traditional school does not work for them.  With all that, we see some real success with our kids,” Beck said.

“All our graduates earned their diploma with a lot of hard work and motivation.  I love the students that come to COLE and am proud to serve TUSD in this capacity,” Beck said. 

New law helps if virtual learning resumes

With substantial and high COVID-19 transmission rates in many Arizona communities, several school district governing boards have voted to require masks on campus, challenging recent legislation prohibiting school districts from requiring masks on campus that goes into effect at the end of September that Gov. Ducey signed as part of the budget package.

Phoenix Union High School District let families know that masks were strongly suggested and would be mandatory for school before the first day in light of surging cases of the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19 and vaccines not being recommended yet for children under 12 years old.

Since then Phoenix Elementary School District, Tucson Unified School District, Osborn Elementary School District, Roosevelt Elementary School District, Washington Elementary School District, Creighton Elementary School District have followed suit.

Soon afterward, Metro Tech High School biology teacher Douglas Hester’s lawsuit over Phoenix Union High School District’s mask mandate was heard Wednesday morning in Maricopa County Superior courtroom, Phoenix Union’s attorney moved to dismiss the case, and the next hearing will be at 9 a.m. Aug. 13.

Meanwhile, other school districts have strongly encouraged students, staff, and visitors to wear masks while in campus buildings in light of outbreaks in their schools or districts as students start classes.

In addition, school districts are also considering what might lead them to return to online instruction, and legislation signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in April gives them the flexibility to make the decision to move to online instruction without impacting their funding as severely as last year’s quick transition to virtual learning did.

Students attending school online must receive instruction through either an approved Arizona Online Instruction (AOI) school, for which funding will be paid at the AOI rate – 95% full-time or 85% part-time – unless the district adopts a different instructional time model under House Bill 2862 that includes delivering up to 50% of a school’s total instructional time for the 2021-2022 school year in a distance learning format without a funding penalty.

House Bill 2862 lets a school district governing board or charter school governing body, after at least two public hearings, adopt an alternative instructional time model to meet the minimum annual instructional time and instructional hours requirements for determining average daily membership, daily attendance, and student count, said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations analyst for Arizona School Boards Association.

House Bill 2862 also requires the instructional time model adopted provide students the minimum instructional time for the full school year in any course with any combination of in-person and remote instruction that includes direct instruction, project-based learning, independent learning time, and mastery-based learning, which may be delivered in a blended classroom serving multiple grades or by providing blended grade level content, Jensen said.

“It also lets a school to stagger learning times and schedules and offer courses and other instructional time on the weekend or in the evenings,” Jensen said.

Tuba City Unified School District Online Academy was not approved for an AOI in school year 2020-2021, is currently operating under the provisions of HB 2862, and has about 5 to 15 students per grade level in remote learning as school starts, Supt. Dr. Terry Maurer said.

“It has provided our families a fantastic option for the short term. We are working with our families to feel comfortable sending their students back for in person learning ASAP,” Supt. Maurer said. 

Back to school during a COVID surge series:
Part 1: School districts respond to Gov’s office criticism for following public health COVID-19 recommendations
Part 2: Students head back for first day of school as COVID cases surge
Part 3: How new laws affect online instruction
Part 4: What would it take to rescind law prohibiting school mask mandates?

Other related articles:
Daily schools update: The latest on mask mandates & teacher lawsuit
Daily schools update: COVID-19 cases surge in AZ youth
Daily schools update: Doctors recommend masks for students 2 years & up at school
Daily schools update: Arizona Lawmakers to Ban Mask Requirements in Schools
How COVID-19 vaccinations for ages 16 and up could affect AZ high schools
COVID-19 cases rise before Thanksgiving adding to school and hospital leaders’ concerns

How & why teachers discuss trial with students; Schools keep masks after Gov. rescinds mandate
Masks are still required in all schools; Video: Dr. Christ’s news conference today
Arizona School Safety Task Force releases final report and model school safety plan
School leaders ask people to limit activities to prevent spread of COVID-19 in schools
School nurses play a key role in COVID-19 safety plans
How benchmarks, health advice, insurance guide schools’ re-opening plans
School boards face tough decisions on when to re-open schools for in-person classes

Over the past months, Tuba City Unified School District has worked to ensure schools are safe and staff is trained in the latest mitigation strategies, Supt. Maurer said. 

“We work closely with Tuba City Regional Health Care and are excited to open our doors to a safe and fantastic 2021-2022 school year,” Supt. Maurer said. 

“If the Navajo Nation or the county closes the schools, then we will pivot to teacher-led virtual classes and look to return ASAP,” Supt. Maurer said. “I do not see this happening when we look at the data, but we will be ready from the TCUSD side. The main concern is still access to reliable internet for our families.”

House Bill 2862 also lets “school districts retain the ability to close campuses due to COVID-19 if they feel it necessary under their authority/obligation to protect student/staff safety, because all Executive Orders related to school closure are expired or rescinded,” Jensen said.

“We are continuously evaluating options for different scenarios should the need arise to go back to a virtual setting,” Ryon said. “This bill would provide some flexibility to us if we needed to consider shifting to a virtual setting for a period of time.”