DOUGLAS — The Douglas School Board unanimously approved the recommendation of DUSD Superintendent Ana Samaniego that students begin in-person learning, following a hybrid model that will also provide parents with the option to keep their kids online when they return from spring break March 15 for the final quarter of the school year.

The decision was made at a special board meeting Monday.

Spring sports was also given the okay to start practice beginning March 1.

The new plan calls for in-person learning four days a week with Wednesday being a virtual learning day for all DUSD students. The DHS schedule will be split into four groups: A.M. and P.M. Monday and Thursday, and Tuesday and Friday.

A student may have a schedule of Monday and Thursday in the A.M., a schedule of Tuesday and Friday in the A.M., a schedule of Monday and Thursday in the P.M. or a schedule of Tuesday and Friday in the P.M.

DHS administrators will be contacting students via their student email account to verify which group they are scheduled in to avert any confusion. Parents will be alerted to check their student’s email so they will be aware of their student’s schedule.

“I am very appreciative of the board for supporting my recommendation of beginning in-person learning,” Samaniego said after Monday’s meeting. “I think our students in Douglas need the opportunity to get back to in-person learning. I understand that it’s not going to be as normal as a traditional school year, but it is a start after almost a year that they have had no in-person instruction.”

Samaniego noted that it was March 6 of last year when the DUSD went to distance learning.

“DUSD will follow all the mitigation strategies and parents will have the option for those that want to keep their kids at home and feel that it’s not safe to send them to school,” the superintendent said. “Our teachers will continue to provide those distance learning lessons while we are able to open up for those kids that want in-person learning.”

Samaniego also presented results from a survey which showed a majority of staff, parents and students supported finishing the school year via distance learning.

Samaniego pointed out that out of over 3,800 students in the district, 687 parents responded to the survey and the numbers were 64% to remain online while 36% wanted to resume in-person learning. Teachers also sought to remain virtual by a 69-31% margin.

Elementary and middle school numbers were 64-36% to remain virtual, while Douglas High School students were 58-42% to remain virtual.

“We went the direction that we did because the numbers show there is a preference, but you also have to look at the number of those that want to go to school in person,” Samaniego said.

“What the board is allowing us to do allows students both opportunities. It allows distance learning to remain distance learning, and it allows those that want to go to school for at least one quarter to show up in person. Staying (only) online doesn’t give those students that want to attend school that option.”

Samaniego said she understands her teachers are mentally and physically exhausted from virtual teaching, but there are currently students at home taking online classes without parent supervision.

“A lot of our staff has already been vaccinated while others are waiting to receive the vaccine,” she said. “We are definitely in a better position than what we were six months ago. The fears are still there, they are not going away.”

“The hybrid allows parents the option to keep their kids online if they want. Knowing what we know about education, I strongly support in-person learning. Bottom line, we are here for (the) kids. I know our kids have suffered as a result of this pandemic. School is a place not only for learning, but where kids learn how to socialize.”

DUSD’s newest board member, Jana Selchow, spoke about the challenges the district is facing.

“We have students who have learning disabilities that need to be in school,” she said. “It’s those students I’m really concerned about. We’ve heard from a number of students who want to get back into school, into sports, my question to them is, are they willing to do what it takes? Put it back on them to be responsible. If you have high expectations, you will receive high answers. I am very concerned about what they’re learning and how much they’re learning.”

Samaniego said many of DUSD students will have their first in-class experience in March. Kindergarteners, for example, will have their first time in a DUSD building.

“We’re going to have to spend the first couple of weeks learning this new way of learning, while following the protocols that have been put in place within the schools,” the superintendent said.

Masks and social distancing will be required of all those on any DUSD campus. Class sizes will also be smaller.

Dr. Ed Gomez said this year has basically been a “non-year” in his opinion.

“We’re going to find out when the AzMERIT scores come out how well the students learn for a year, if they don’t do as well as they have done before, then we have put a world of hurt on them,” he said. “I’m not in favor of closing the schools until the end of the year.”

Samaniego replied, “I believe the students will adhere to the guidelines that we have in place because they want to be in school.”

Spring sportsDuring the call to the public portion of the meeting, Samaniego read seven letters from student athletes who asked the board to allow a spring sports season to take place.

“Athletics is a big part of this community, and in our community we have very few options for our youth, we understand high school sports is pretty much the only thing that they have,” Samaniego said.

“It is really encouraging for these athletes to know that not only will they have the opportunity to have in-person learning if they choose to but they will also be given to have a spring season. Spring season sports were canceled last year and they didn’t get to have a season. They had that completely taken away from them, and that was beyond our control, but I think our decision today brings some reassurance to our kids we are vouching for their education.”

She said she supports a return to sports.

“We want to give them those extra curricular activities that are so important to their livelihood. It’s a way to keep them closer to home, keep them engaged and in something that’s in our control. I think this community is ready to see our fields busy once again with students playing some sort of athletic competition.”

The superintendent stated this has been a very challenging and stressful year for everyone, including her administrative team, educators and herself.

“I consider myself a rookie superintendent,” she said.

“I don’t think any superintendent was ready for all that we have dealt with this past year. I definitely want to support our staff and I feel I have been very supportive of our staff. We’ve listened to them, encouraged them, and we’ve given them the best that we can under the circumstances to be better teachers in this new way of teaching.”

The district has worked to support them in return, she said.

“We have given them tools, guidance and the time they’ve needed to really deal with this coronavirus. We understand their frustration, anxieties and their fears but on the other side I have a responsibility to our students. I really wanted to vouch for them to at least be able to finish the year with in-person learning. Hopefully in August, we’re going to be a lot more prepared for the reopening of our schools.”

Ray Borane, president of the DUSD board, agreed students in the district need to be in some kind of classroom setting.

“We need to afford those that want to come back the opportunity,” he said. “We understand not all of them will. I believe our decision today was a good move to get the students back in school.”