Schools get ready for students' return to in-person learning - AZEdNews
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Schools get ready for students’ return to in-person learning


Peralta Elementary 2nd-grade Teacher Teresa Cronso, Sets Up Her Classroom To Get Ready For Students Return Next Week. Photo Courtesy Veronica Sanchez/ Cartwright School District

Peralta Elementary School Teacher Teresa Cronso set up her classroom Tuesday and prepared for her second grade students who will return to in-person learning next week after spring break.

It’s been a year since Cartwright School District students and many others around the state have been back on campus since the COVID-19 pandemic led to school closures, and principals, teachers and staff are excited to see students on campus again, said Veronica Sanchez, communications director.

Cartwright School District’s governing board voted unanimously during a February meeting to continue distance learning for the rest of the school year, said Cartwright Supt. Dr. LeeAnn Aguilar-Lawlor, who sent out a letter to students’ families explaining why on Feb. 13.

“Their reasoning was based on the fact that vaccines are not readily available to our community and that returning for in-person instruction would be too risky for families,” Supt. Aguilar-Lawlor said in her letter. “If we all do our part, we will have an opportunity to see our students soon and in-person at our amazing schools.”

“Maryvale has been hit hard by the pandemic. We have lost co-workers, family members of co-workers and our scholars have been impacted by losses in their households as well,” Sanchez said. “Governing board members also took into account the voices of parents who wanted to remain online and their safety concerns as well as teacher and staff concerns in making that decision.”

“They looked and listened to all affected by the possibility of re-opening our schools in a thoughtful manner, taking everything into consideration,” Sanchez said. “It was not an easy decision, but one made with all of the data and facts available to them.” 

But that changed when Gov. Doug Ducey issued an Executive Order on requiring all Arizona schools to return to in-person, teacher-led instruction by March 15 or after spring break. Click here for more.

Cartwright Supt. Aguilar-Lawlor posted a letter to students’ families that day on the school website that said the district would be complying with Gov. Ducey’s order and noted that “The final decision as to whether or not your child comes in for in-person learning or continues with distance learning is yours and yours alone to make.” 

Gov. Ducey’s announcement of his Executive Order took school district governing board members, principals, teachers, and education advocates by surprise.

While some schools had planned to return to in-person learning in the next month, for other schools Gov. Ducey’s Executive Order led to emergency board meetings to put in place school’s in-progress plans for welcoming students back to campus in less than two weeks.

“Unfortunately, this (Executive Order) was released with no warning to school districts and administrators, and that’s resulted in some confusion as to what’s required,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.

#Legislative Legit: Schools re-opening per Gov. Ducey’s executive order

Video edited by Jacquelyn Gonzales/ AZEdNews

“There is an understanding, we believe, that every school may not be open on the 15th exactly, but that districts and charters are expected to make a good faith effort to comply with the order,” Kotterman said.

Supt. of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said the Arizona Department of Education is supportive of schools using layered mitigation strategies to safely initiate or expand in-person learning.

“However, the timing of this announcement will make it challenging for some schools that had already made plans to return to in-person instruction on a different schedule due to their local community circumstances,” Supt. Hoffman said.

High COVID-19 areas under tribal sovereignty

“Exactly what your model looks like depends on what your county metric looks like,” Kotterman said.

Middle and high schools in counties with high transmission of COVID-19, as defined by the CDC ⁠— only Coconino, Yavapai, and Pinal at this time — are exempt from the order.

“If you are a district on a tribal nation under stay at home orders, the guidance that we’ve got from Arizona Dept. of Education hasb een that obviously, students will be expected to comply with those tribal government orders and so that will affect the number of students you have showing up to school,” Kotterman said.

Supt. Hoffman mentioned in her comments last week that Tribal Sovereignty is still in effect regarding the Executive order and middle and high schools in high transmission counties — only Coconino, Yavapai, and Pinal at this time — are exempt from his order.

Schools get ready for students' return to in-person learning Peralta-2-300
Teresa Cronso’s classroom at Peralta Elementary is ready for her second graders to return to school on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Photo by Veronica Sanchez/ Cartwright School District

Tuba City Unified School District, which serves a majority of Navajo, or Diné students in Coconino County, is having a governing board meeting this evening where they will discuss and vote on plans for Pre-K-5 students to return to in-person classes full time, while students in grades 6-12 would return to hybrid instruction with in-person learning and remote learning on alternate days from March 30 through May 27, 2021.

In February, Tuba City Unified planned on offering on-site learning opportunities and support services for students who need a place to do their remote learning during the school day that would have started on March 9th.

In a letter to students’ families on the school district website, Supt. Dr. Risha VenderWey said, “While science, data, and shared values will inform our decisions, the capacity and resource constraints posed by safety guidelines, limits the number of possible scenarios for the re-entry of students.”

“These constraints include safety guidelines for transportation, the number of students that can be physically accommodated in our buildings, and the need to prioritize developmentally appropriate practices,” Supt. VanderWey said. “Any scenario will require a significant change to the school day, both in structure and instruction as we work to meet social distancing requirements.”

“Our contingency planning engagement teams comprised of school leaders, parents, TCUSD members, Chapter house representatives, local partners, students, and central office staff explore each scenario. Our engagement teams may also suggest revisions to the initial options or a hybrid of the four models,” Supt. VanderWey said.

“The planning process will be guided by the tenets of our President Nez, Governor Ducey and Superintendent Hoffman of the Arizona Department of Education to explore safety requirements, attendance requirements, delivery of remote instruction to various student groups, and budget constraints, and will include feedback gathered in the recent staff, family, and leadership survey. These same survey results will be shared with all families and staff,” Supt. VanderWey said.

“We understand the frustration that some may feel about possibly continuing remote learning in the later part of fall and possibly into winter, while others may be fearful for their student’s or family’s safety if we were to return to school buildings,” Supt. VanderWey said. “Please know that we are actively engaging with a diverse group of partners and stakeholders and centering family and student voice in our decision making.”

How schools are responding

Gov. Ducey’s order sped-up the return to in-person learning for many schools including those in Cartwright, Roosevelt and Balsz school districts.

“The reality is that our district has been preparing for in-person instruction for months,” Sanchez said. “We assembled a COVID-19 Task Force last Spring and they met weekly and briefed leadership on their findings in terms of metrics, safety and possible in-person return.”

Related article:
Schools get ready for students on campus per Governor Doug Ducey’s order & Video: COVID19 update

“While the Governor’s deadline is challenging, we are more than ready to open in-person instruction on March 16th,” Sanchez said. “We have been accommodating some scholars for in-person instruction since the beginning of the school year and they will be on campus on March 15th.”

Schools get ready for students' return to in-person learning Dr-Boyce-Cropped-300
Dr. Quintin Boyce talks about the impact COVID-19 is having on schools in Roosevelt Elementary School District.

“Those who have not been in-person all year will be allowed to come back on Tuesday, March 16th and there will be social distancing and mask wearing,” Sanchez said. “Safety procedures will be followed as well as CDC guidelines.”

“More than anything, our administrators and teachers are thrilled to be welcoming students in-person but the most important thing to remember is that our scholars have a choice,” Sanchez said. “They can keep their children on distance learning and we are facilitating that and happy to do so for parents who are fearful.”

Roosevelt Elementary School District had originally planned on returning to in-person hybrid instruction for students on-campus on March 29, but Gov. Ducey’s Executive order moved that date up to March 22.

“After a full year of teaching and learning in a remote environment we are thankful to be able offer an in-person learning option later this month. Families that have selected to remain in a virtual learning setting will also have that option,” said Supt. Dr. Quintin Boyce in a statement to students’ families.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritized the safety of our students, staff and families.  We believe that it is important to have the week after spring break to appropriately prepare for the return of our amazing student,” Dr. Boyce said.

Balsz School District students return to campus on Monday, March 15, and Supt. Dr. Arleen Kennedy posted this video to the school website to update students families on plans.

Supt. Kennedy also shared the following tips with families to prepare for in-person classes.

Cartwright School District’s motto is “One Team, Una Familia!”and “We take it seriously, but this pandemic has really showcased our resilience and made that motto resonate even more,” Sanchez said.

“We believe in educating students as a family, taking care of them and celebrating their successes as a family would do from the bus driver to the principal to the nurse to the superintendent to the parent, etc,” Sanchez said.