More schools return to online learning as COVID-19 cases rise - AZEdNews
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More schools return to online learning as COVID-19 cases rise

Marley Park Elementary School Students Conner Schroeder, Kindergarten And Colton Schroeder, 5th Grade, Participate In Remote Learning Through An In-person Learning Lab. Photo Courtesy Of Dysart Unified School District

Updated Nov. 25: More schools are returning to distance learning as COVID-19 cases surge, and public health officials are expecting it to get worse after Thanksgiving.

An update from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health shows just how much of a surge in COVID-19 cases there’s been recently with the latest confirmed and positive case rates and positivity percentages from Nov. 8 through Nov. 14.

Yet, Maricopa Community Colleges says spring sports to resume next semester.

Apache Junction Unified School District announced Monday, Nov. 23 that they were moving back to online learning starting Monday, Nov. 30 and continuing through Monday, Jan. 18.

In a news release, the school district said the decision was made by a 5-0 vote at Monday’s emergency Governing Board meeting, noting that two COVID-19 benchmarks in Apache Junction have turned red, with 233.9 confirmed cases of 100,000 and a 10.6 percent positivity rate.

Classes will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. Special Education students will be provided services through teletherapy and/or in person therapy based on their individual learning plans. Learning labs will be established and information sent to parents.

The AJUSD Governing Board will meet Jan. 12 to analyze the COVID-19 benchmarks and determine whether a return to in-person learning or a hybrid model is warranted, the news release stated.

Peoria Unified School District Supt. Dr. Jason Reynolds shared the district’s response to COVID-19, their concerns about the impact that rising COVID-19 cases are having and that their task force and principals are meeting to be prepared for a potential move back to virtual learning, in this video released Nov. 20.

“We are fighting hard to keep our schools open,” Dr. Reynolds said. “Our teachers and staff are working overtime to ensure that we have a safe learning environment for our children.”

“As a parent of a child who was quarantined by her school, I understand the frustration,” Dr. Reynolds said. “However, I also understand how fragile our current situation is, and know that each thing we do has a positive effect on keeping us open.”

“As we enter into the holiday season, you can help to keep our schools open to in-person learning, by wearing masks, conducting home health checks and staying home when you’re not feeling well or exhibiting COVID-like symptoms,” Dr. Reynolds said.

Dysart Unified reminds families that while there is an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the community, cases at individual schools in the district remain low.

Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District No. 35, like other districts around the state, made the decision to return to online and virtual learning due to increases in COVID-19 cases as of Nov. 12 and continue that through the end of the first quarter Dec. 18

Last week, the Arizona Department of EducationArizona Department of Health Services and school leaders from Roosevelt Elementary School District, Mesa Public Schools, and Vail School District and asked students’ families and communities to limit activities now and during upcoming holidays to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Click here for the story.

Many Arizona colleges are offering free COVID-19 tests for students who plan to head home for Thanksgiving.

Maricopa Unified School District is looking at the feasibility ot returning to all online classes or going to hybrid instruction to reduce the days students are on campus each week and their possible exposure, according to an In Maricopa article.

Sunnyside Unified schools will return to distance learning after Thanksgiving, Arizona Daily Star reports.

Camp Verde Unified School District has been hit hardest by COVID-19 among Verde Valley schools, and canceled it’s football and volleyball seasons after several positive in its athletic department, The Verde Valley Independent reports.

Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Supt. Steve King wrote to students families asking them to strickly follow the school’s COVID-19 safety protocols noting the 6 COVID-19 cases since schools returned to in-person learning saying “All of these have been from contast with family members and not at school,” King said. “We have seen no indication of spread in our schools.”

Madison Elementary School District announced Nov. 18 that it will return to online learning on Nov. 30.

Dysart Unified School District sent an email to parents saying that they believe in-person learning is best for students and have no plans right now to move back to virtual learning.

“Dysart carefully monitors several sources of data to provide the best, safest learning methods for our students,” said Dr. Quinn Kellis, superintendent of Dysart Unified, in an email to parents. “It is important to remember that while the broader community data is in the red according to county dashboard data, individual school data show very low counts of active cases with very limited spread. Most schools have zero or one or two cases with no spread.”

School districts are evaluating Maricopa County Department of Public Health metrics to decide if they should return to online learning to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 as cases in the county rise significantly, said Chris Kotterman, Arizona School Boards Association‘s director of governmental relations.

“So the first thing to understand is that no one really agrees that this rapid transition to online-only education is necessarily a great thing, right? So everyone agrees that it’s less perfect than being in school, as everybody wants to be,” Kotterman said to KJZZ 91.5 FM this morning.

“But the thing about COVID is, it doesn’t really care what we want — it cares what we do,” Kotterman said.

“Everybody wants to be in school, but administrators have an obligation to protect their communities, especially their students and staff. And so if they feel like the only thing they can do to keep their students and staff safe is to go back to online learning, then that’s what they’re going to have to do,” Kotterman said.

The concern is that asymptomatic students or school staff may inadvertently spread COVID-19 to other students who could bring that back to susceptible adults in their families or to school staff who may be more susceptible to the disease or members of their families, Kotterman said.

“if parents want schools to stay open, they need to observe good practices outside of school and have got to be transparent about whether their students are ill,” Kotterman said to AZEdNews.

“The entire point of all of this is to minimize the chances that students become asymptomatic spreaders of the virus,” Kotterman said to AZEdNews. “Everything that schools are trying to do is undermined if good public health practices aren’t observed outside of school as well.”

Schools started online and virtually this year, but switching instruction modes can be difficult for students and staff, Kotterman noted.

“Most schools say that they need about two weeks to fully ramp up and ramp down a sort of hybrid-to-online transition,” Kotterman said.

Another thing to remember is that with open enrollment a school’s students can come from all over the greater Phoenix area, not just the neighborhood, Kotterman said.

One school district may offer hybrid instruction while another nearby district is offering online learning only, and that can lead to “some anxiety among parents because they’re not necessarily all sending their kids to the same schools,” Kotterman said. 

Gov. Doug Ducey released this pre-recorded video on Twitter at around 3 p.m. today asking people to follow guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

But Supt. of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said today it might be time for stronger state action.

The Arizona Education Association sent a letter to Gov. Ducey today asking him to implement a Statewide COVID-19 Plan for Safe Schools.

Read the letter from the AEA to the Governor here.

With COVID-19 cases rapidly rising again in the state for the past six weeks, Arizona teachers and staff continue to believe they and their students are at increased risk, the Arizona Education Association said in a press release at 4:44 p.m. today

The AEA has sent two letters to the governor’s office on August 21s and October 30 calling for “a statewide plan that is transparent and accountable, prioritizes school safety, and ensures students and educators are working and learning in safe and just schools.”

“The guidelines in place are not sufficient. They have created confusion and divisions inside our communities. Too many Arizonans feel this pandemic is a hoax. They are not taking seriously your recommendations to ‘mask up’ to stop the spread. Parents,
students, and educators need you to state in the strongest and clearest terms a plan with mandates their safety and reverses the spread of this virus,” wrote Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association in today’s letter.

The letter outlines some suggestion for a plan, including mandating masks be worn in schools statewide and on school buses until the end of the school year, requiring schools with ZIP codes showing COVID-19 rates above 100 per 100,000 population for two consecutive weeks return to distance learning, and providing additional funding and support for districts that return to distance learning mode until January among other suggestions,

“Educators and students cannot wait any longer, they need you to take action now. We are still here and ready to work with you on a statewide approach that ensures all educators and students have
access to safe and just schools,” Thomas says in the letter.

Last week, Paradise Valley Schools decided to return to online learning due to the incidence of COVID-19 in the communities it serves as well.

Meanwhile, Tucson Unified School District Supt. Dr. Gabriel Trujillo said the reason he’s stayed silent about COVID-19 cases at school to the public is that, “TUSD has experienced a significant increase in online COVID shaming and bullying when information gets out about somebody testing positive or somebody having to quarantine.”

Employees are shaming their fellow employees “calling them irresponsible, calling them super-spreaders, saying that you deserve to get it, we saw you without a mask in the teachers lounge,” Dr. Trujillo said.

“We’ve had a couple of situations where we’ve almost had teachers resigning over their status of being COVID-19 positive getting out publicly,” Dr. Trujillo said.

Dr. Trujillo said Tucson Unified is working on developing a dashboard that will indicate COVID-19 cases in the district.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Arizona rose to 276,912 today from 275,436 yesterday, and 6,302 have died from the virus, said the Arizona Department of Health Services.

In Maricopa County, there are 176,993 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 33,087 in Pima County, 15,522 in Yuma County, 13,730 in Pinal County, 7,159 in Navajo County, 6,383 in Coconino County, 5,105 in Mohave County, 4,393 in Apache County, 3,637 in Yavapai County, 3,316 in Santa Cruz County, 2,704 in Cochise County, 2,366 in Gila County, 1,704 in Graham County, 684 in La Paz County and 129 in Greenlee County.

Interactive Graphic: (Hover over counties and boxes for more info)


Earlier today, the Arizona Interscholastic Association met with Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ and Supt. of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman as COVID-19 cases increase and AIA executive Director David Hines has recommended to the organization’s executive board that high school winter sports competition – including boys and girls basketball, soccer and wrestling be delayed until January.

Click here for schools and COVID-19 coverage 11/18 and going forward

Earlier coverage

Nov. 2 – 13: $19 M grant would help schools with teacher development, stipends, reading & math curriculum, summer ed resources and more

Oct. 20 to Oct. 30: AZDHS amends COVID-19 school benchmarks

Oct. 7 – Oct. 19: What are teachers doing ahead of elections to support students afterwards

Aug. 25 – Sept. 8: Parents voice concern about online class size; school nurses prepare for students

Aug. 12 – Aug. 24: Students, teachers affected by Zoom outage

July 30 – Aug. 11: Parent organizes co-op for learners; group rallies for in-person school days after benchmarks release

July 13- July 30: Teachers prepare for digital learning and back to school

June 29 – July 12Video: Gov. says ‘Goal is to get children back to school when it’s safe;’ Schools lay out learning models

June 29: Video: Gov. delays in-person classes to Aug. 17 due to rise in COVID-19

June 15 – June 29: Video: Gov. pauses re-opening of some businesses as COVID-19 cases rise

June 24: Plan provides more funding, flexible instruction as schools re-open

May 26 – June 12: Increase in COVID-19 cases marks a new daily high

May 20 – 25: AZ Dept. of Ed releases COVID-19 guidance to schools for summer programs, back to school

May 11 – 19: Arizonans consider workplace safety, what back to school will look like amid COVID-19

April 26 – May 10: Stores re-open, COVID-19 testing blitz resumes on Saturday

April 8 – 25You can get tested now if you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19

March 12 – April 7Coronavirus response: Cases rise; AZ Day of Giving