DOUGLAS — While some schools in Cochise County have begun in person or hybrid classes, the Douglas Unified School District is opting to remain with distance learning through at least mid October.

At a special DUSD board meeting Sept. 9, the Douglas school board was given an update on all that has happened with distance learning since school began Aug. 17, as well as how declining enrollment numbers have impacted the district financially.

Mene Gomez, DUSD’s New Student Center supervisor, informed the board that student enrollment has declined from over 4,000 students (who generate state funding) on opening day down to 3,703 as of the board meeting. She explained some of the reasons for the decline, the main one being families are simply leaving Douglas for jobs in other cities because of the pandemic. Another reason she provided was due to some of the challenges some of the students experience with distance learning.

“As we lose students our state funding goes down,” she said. “Only about nine of those students transferred to other schools within the city which is about normal. Usually they’ll go and try it out and eventually return to us.”

Gomez stated that a number of DUSD students are being raised by parents or guardians who may not be “technology savvy” and therefore have a hard time doing the assigned class work remotely.

“The help is there, it’s just a matter of having them reach out to us,” she said adding there are free in-person spaces available at each of the schools in the district where students can do their schoolwork and still be socially distanced.

“It’s hard for a lot of these students to sit in front of a computer all day,” Gomez told the board. “It’s a new transition, a new innovative change and a lot of students are not into that.”

DUSD Superintendent Ana Samaniego who was at the meeting telephonically informed the board that 90-95% of students who have left the district have left because their families have moved.

“The enrollment has declined greatly due to families leaving our home town because of this pandemic,” she said.

At a previous school board meeting the board had accepted a hybrid plan which has students on campus two days a week for face to face instruction and three days at home doing online assignments.

In October the board will discuss its options of going to the hybrid plan of education that was previously proposed or continue with distance learning.

“We are now in our fifth week of distance learning,” the superintendent said. “A majority of our teachers feel the quality of distance learning is improving. They feel right now, they are in a good spot. We understand that many of our teachers would prefer to have the traditional classroom settings.”

Cesar Soto, DUSD’s chief financial and operations officer, informed the board that based on the declining enrollment numbers the district could lose roughly $733,000 this year.

“It’s a concern because 85% of our budget is salaries and benefits,” he said. “We are currently in a hiring freeze. There are a few vacancies that we have that we haven’t filled.”

DUSD’s IT Director Marco Durazo told the board that close to 2,000 brand new chromebooks and ipads have been distributed to students in the district.

“We recognize that this new method of instruction has been very challenging for students and parents but also teachers and staff,” he said. “After four years of doing online school myself I can tell you the first several weeks of this is training, getting used to where everything is and how to submit assignments. I see this myself as a training period for both the students and the parents. If we can use our tech support as a way of gauging; phones and emails, I can tell you the number of calls has decreased. Some of the issues we have now are students having difficulty logging in or accessing specific resources. We did have a couple of issues at the beginning but they have been resolved. We recognize it has been very challenging.”

DUSD board president Ray Borane as well as the other board members praised the job the administration team has done during this very difficult time and requested another update at its October meeting before deciding what to do next.

Valley Union begins in person classes

Valley Union High School in Elfrida began in person classes Sept. 8 while the elementary and middle school began this past Monday

The Elfrida elementary website advised parents that students may not arrive on campus any earlier than 7:45 a.m. and all students will be screened prior to being allowed on campus.

“Parents are asked to stay and wait for their child to be screened before leaving,” the website reads. “Please check your child for any symptoms or fever before sending the child to school. Keep kids home if they are sick or are showing any symptoms associated with COVID-19.”

Valley Union Superintendent Kyle Hart sent a letter to each parent and guardian explaining to them the procedure for when students returned to school. It included a COVID-19 Parental Acknowledgement and Disclosure form.

“At a time when so much misinformation is circulating, we want you to clearly understand your responsibilities—and our objectives—when it comes to the safety of your child and our teachers, administrators, and staff,” part of the letter reads. “While the form may seem long and detailed, the messages are those you’ve heard before: You must take your child’s temperature every day before school. (A temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is considered a fever.) If your child is sick, they must stay home. For safety reasons, parents and guardians will not be allowed on campus past the drop-off area unless there is an emergency. If your child comes into contact with someone who may have COVID-19, or who tests positive for COVID-19, you must let us know. The form also confirms the school’s and district’s intent to: Monitor students for symptoms that could indicate a coronavirus infection, and if they do show symptoms, to call you right away to pick them up and take them home. Remain aware of changes in Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and to follow the guidance of the CDC, the county health department, and the Arizona Department of Health Services.”