BISBEE — Though it took nearly four hours, members of the Bisbee Unified School District board agreed to recommend all students attend class via online courses for the first six weeks of school, which begins Aug. 18, with a caveat.
It allows schools to accommodate students whose parents petition to send them on the weekly hybrid schedule of two days in class and two days remote learning if that is what they choose.
Students must engage in learning regardless of the plan they choose to prevent loss of credit. Students who do not attend or participate for 10 consecutive days will be unenrolled in accordance with state statute.
Board members Ann Litrell, Carol Loy, Erin Rhodes, Scott Hall and Brian Ott determined it was still unsafe to allow in–person school, particularly since Arizona Department of Education superintendent Kathy Hoffman stated it was not safe to open schools on Aug. 17 as Gov. Doug Ducey ordered.
While they prefer all students attend remotely as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID–19, Ducey’s order on openings requires schools to provide space for those students who cannot stay at home, including those with special needs, at-risk children and those who come from low income families reliant on school breakfasts and lunches.
According to a survey of parents and teachers, which sought preferences for remote, hybrid or in person learning, the majority of parents were split between online and hybrid classes, reported Superintendent Tom Woody.
Woody told the board members the schools are prepared for students and teachers to be onsite and had safe sanitizers, disinfectants and wipes on hand. Teachers will have face shields, N95 masks and disposable masks provided by the district. All children who do not have or left their masks at home will have two provided for them.
All students must have a daily health screening form filled out by parents that gives an overview of the child’s health, including temperature which cannot be over 100.4 degrees F, and provides a contact number in case a student develops any symptoms and needs to go home.
The child is to be held at home for 24 hours and the temperature must drop below the threshold without the use of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
If a child tests positive, Woody said the school would help with contact tracing in coordination with the county health department so parents and faculty know they may have been infected by the virus.
Each student arriving at the schools will have their temperatures taken prior to entering the building. Woody said a nurse’s station would be established to keep the students with elevated temperatures isolated from other students until the parents could pick them up.
The schools are being prepped with arrows on floors indicating direction of movement and social distancing as precautions for students who do attend school in person.
Buses will run and students picked up and dropped off daily. Masks are required to get on the bus. Parents are encouraged to drop off their children if possible.
The school cafeterias will provide boxed breakfasts and lunches and students will eat in shifts and have only two people per table, Woody said.
Class end times will be staggered to prevent crowding of students.
There will be no field trips and no visitors will be allowed past the schools’ administrative offices.
Students will be given breaks during the school day to go outside and take off their masks, he added.
Though some on the board would like to have daily testing onsite for teachers and students, Woody said it was not feasible.
Hall said, “I don’t have a comfortable feeling. You get one person in a small, enclosed group and the virus will spread quickly.”
Loy pointed out, as did Litrell, schools that have opened in other states were seeing increased cases of the virus and had to turn to remote learning.
She also noted the number of parents who wanted to send their children to school.
Woody said 325 out of 517 parents wanted their children to be on the hybrid schedule and 269 wanted to strictly go online.
He also said the district did not have enough Chromebooks to cover all the students for online learning. There is a backlog of orders for Chromebooks and he was not sure when they would be available.
Ott wanted to know how contact tracing takes place. Woody told him the schools would coordinate with the county health department to identify possible at-risk children and faculty. The county does the tracing and handles contacting those who may have been infected.
Also of concern to Ott was the possibility of students from Mexico coming to class who may be infected. “I’m concerned with what’s coming across the border.”
For Rhodes, a teacher, the idea of allowing the children to come into contact with each other and the faculty, some of whom would be considered vulnerable, was “scary. I think it will be a matter of ‘when’ it happens, not if.”
Litrell voiced her reluctance to open the schools to in–person learning at all as it places risks on the students and teachers. She preferred all online to the hybrid schedule, but understood the problems some families would have with remote learning.
Woody said, “I see this as a living document. It will change as conditions change. We can update it.”
Faculty will have to notify parents of the choices they have prior to the Aug. 18 opening, said Bisbee High School principal Darin Giltner.
Lowell Junior High School principal Laura Miller said unless the Arizona Department of Education or Ducey establish the closure of schools and require online learning, “We will not close down our campuses. The hybrid schedule is more predictable for teachers and students.”
One reason Woody was reluctant to go to strictly online classes is the school will lose 5 percent of the revenue received from the state. That 5 percent equals around $350,000, a sum that will be hard to counter without making cuts, which could be to staff.
Hall felt losing the money was worth the risk.