BISBEE — Even though some school districts in Cochise County have opted to reinstate mask mandates, Bisbee Unified School District decided to stick to just recommending students wear them, particularly if they have not been vaccinated.
Sierra Vista, Douglas and a number of other school districts in the state reinstated a mask mandate, even though Gov. Doug Ducey banned masks and threatened defunding districts that did. He also set up a $163 million school grant program with federal recovery funds he controls, but said schools that mandate masks or have to close because of COVID–19 outbreaks will not be eligible for the additional $1,800 per student.
“Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn’t vaccinated,” Ducey said at the time.
Tuesday, BUSD held a public hearing to get comments on the need for mask mandates and the option to return to remote or hybrid learning.
Superintendent Tom Woody said, “We wanted public input to see if adjustments are needed.”
Board member Ann Littrell was concerned about the increase in cases from the delta variant of COVID–19 and pondered whether the district should require them or not.
However, she and board member Brian Ott were wary of the state level threats of defunding.
Woody’s decision not to mandate masks was based on current low number of positive COVID–19 cases in the city. However, if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the county health department call for masking up again, the board gave him the authority to reinstate it.
“The number one driving force behind decisions regarding the reopening of our schools is the health, safety and well-being of the students, staff and community of Bisbee USD,” said Woody. “Our priority has been and will continue to be to provide the highest quality of instruction while keeping our students and staff safe and healthy.”
Bisbee High School teacher Seth Polley told the board members, “All my classes are doing well. Learning is happening and that’s a good thing. My students and I endured last year’s COVID year. We struggled to find our rhythm as infection rates dictated whether we did face to face or online only or some hybrid arrangement. I hope very much that the school board does not return us to hybrid learning. I taught hybrid. It did not go well. My hybrid and online students did not get my best. I want the board to keep face-to-face classes.”
He said he thought the students’ education would be “sacrificed” if the district ended in-person learning.
While the schools will recommend all students wear masks, they are not required, Woody said.
The schools are following other mitigation efforts like providing as much space between students as possible, hand sanitizer stations in every classroom and keeping windows open when possible, said Jen McBeth, district director of instruction.
Students and staff will continue daily screening to check for fever, sore throat, cough and other symptoms for COVID–19, Woody said.
Adele Lewis said she has a daughter at Bisbee High School and recommended the school set up outdoor benches and tables to give the students fresh air at lunch time.
Another subject was discussed that involved class time credit for students who end up at home in quarantine but do not get sick. Woody said such instances would not be counted as absences. It provides flexibility for the school district to determine the manner in which instructional hours are provided to students — remote courses, project based learning, mastery–based learning, weekend courses, or evening courses.
Woody said the state legislators passed a bill that allows each school to count 50% of total instructional time in a remote setting for the 2021–22 school year. It drops in the 2022–23 school year to 40%.
For now, BUSD will use in-person instruction at all three schools, said Woody. High school students will have 720 hours; grades 4th through 8th students, 890 hours. For 1st- through 3rd-grade students, 712 hours and for kindergarten students, 356 hours.
“When attendance is taken on any given day, a student may be reported as participating in remote instruction for all or part of the day,” said Woody. “Students receiving instruction that is not classroom-based should be reported as receiving remote instruction in most circumstances.”
Students who are ill are counted as absent and not part of online learning, he added.