ST. DAVID — After starting classes remotely on Aug. 5, St. David Unified School District opened its campus to in-person classes on Monday, with specific protective protocols in place.

As with school districts all over the state, teachers, students, parents and visitors are required to wear masks. Before heading to classrooms, students stop at a table where paraprofessionals take temperatures, followed by a squirt of hand sanitizer.

In a 4-1 vote, St. David Unified School District governing board members approved in-person learning at the Aug. 11 board meeting. Board member Sharon Thomas, who attends the meetings remotely, was opposed to the in-person option because of concerns about COVID-19 and its potential health risks to students, teachers and staff.

However, after evaluating data provided by the state and county, the other four board members decided it would be in the students’ best interest to reopen the campus to those who wanted to return to school.

“We looked at scientific data as well as the recommended benchmarks provided by the state,” board member Nelson Daley said. “The benchmarks have a two-week lag, and based on the numbers, we felt we were trending in the right direction.”

The board also looked at the number of COVID cases across Cochise County, breaking them down by zip codes.

“We looked at how our own zip codes factored into the county’s data, and saw that we had no cases of COVID in St. David at this time,” Daley said.

While there was a very low percentage of cases in surrounding zip codes, the numbers were so small that the school board decided to open the campus.

In keeping with CDC guidelines, St. David is following specific protocols to help protect students and staff from the virus. Everyone is required to wear masks, wash hands frequently, practice social distancing and use hand sanitizers.

The school board’s decision to start on-site classes was met with overwhelming support from the community, said Principal Andrew Brogan.

“We’ve had a fantastic start to the new school year,” he added. “The kids are excited to be back in school and the staff is happy to be back.”

St. David’s newly hired Superintendent Kyle Hart, who stepped into the superintendent position mid-July, said he supports the board’s decision and is pleased by the number of students that are attending classes in-person.

“We have around 350 students enrolled in the district, and about 320 chose in-person learning,” he said. “So we have about 30 students who stayed with the online option.”

Students who are uncomfortable with in-person classes can attend school remotely, or go with a hybrid option that combines remote and in-class studies.

“I was pushing to open on Monday, so I was really pleased with the board’s vote last week,” Hart said.

For the first couple of weeks of school, the district will not be running buses.

“We wanted to get a feel for how many students are going with in-person learning before we started running bus routes,” Hart said. “Once we have a better idea of how many students are consistently coming to school, the plan is to start partial bus routes by Aug. 31,” he added. “And if all things fall into place, we hope to have full routes running by Sept. 8.”

Despite some of the unknowns and challenges the school district is facing, Hart is encouraged by the community’s support and appreciates the way parents and staff come together in a team effort.

“There are so many important players in this decision to stay open,” he said. “There are so many different viewpoints. We need to look at the teachers’ opinions and their viewpoints, the parents’ and community’s viewpoints and we need to continue to follow the health metrics that are in place.

“With so many parts to consider, we can’t focus on just one of them,” Hart noted. “That’s the greatest challenge in all this. Our ultimate goal is to try and stay open consistently throughout the year. Unfortunately, we’re not in complete control of that decision.”

“This is a challenging time for school districts across the country, and no one really knows what lies ahead,” he added. “We just need to keep working together and always try to make the best possible decisions for our students.”