COUNTY — Just when local districts thought they had what they needed to proceed for schools to open on time, Governor Doug Ducey announced an executive order that pushes the start of school to Aug. 17.
“I can’t say I wasn’t expecting the delay,” said Superintendent for Fort Huachuca Accommodation Schools Mark Goodman. “(But) we were hoping to start on time if safe to do.”
The order does not indicate if those missed days will have to be made up but the Arizona Department of Education has until Aug. 31 to submit their decision on the matter to the governor. Schools may start at their original date with a completely virtual structure. The order only postpones in-person instruction.
Each district will create their own plans for returning and submit them to the state but all agree the extra time allows to better equip the schools and staff for a safe return. Their concern is whether or not they will have to shift their calendars to make up days to reach the 180 day requirement.
Sierra Vista Unified School District
SVUSD administration was planning to return to in-person learning on Aug. 5 and are using community feedback to determine the proper steps for returning. The district issued the following statement, through public information officer Jacob Martinez, in regards to the postponement of in-person instruction.
“We applaud Governor Ducey and Superintendent Hoffman’s leadership as things continue to change as COVID-19 cases surge in Arizona,” the statement said. “We are continuing to develop and refine our plan to return to school in August and will be following the guidance from our leadership closely.
“We are eager to have our students and staff return to classrooms, but want to ensure we do safely and carefully,” the statement concluded.
“We are still in our planning process,” said Palominas Elementary School District Superintendent Sherri Rosalik. “Our multidisciplinary team of teachers, support staff, parents, administrators and board representation has met three times to review our survey data and additional feedback from parents and teachers as well as all available guidance.
“We are in the process of having multiple stakeholders review a draft of our plan before we meet again to finalize details and release the plan.
Rosalik concluded the statement by saying the extra time allows them to review their course of action more and be prepared for what’s to come.
“With the governor’s new order delaying the start of school we will need to review our draft at least one more time,” Rosalik said. “ It continues to be a moving target, but we are doing our best to take all input and determine a course of action that will keep our students and teachers safe.”
All options are still on the table, according to superintendent Robert Devere who was anticipating opening on Aug. 3.
“Everybody is wanting to get back to school,” he said. “I don’t expect this to be the last change.”
Devere praised Ducey on Thursday for providing flexibility and funding for hybrid and online education for schools but thought his decision to push the start of the school year was for health reasons over education reasons.
He said they are working on their plan which he hopes to present to the board next week for approval to submit to the state. Now that in-person instruction had been pushed back Devere said this may cause the new student orientations to be pushed back as well but details are still being worked out for how it will look.
Devere wants parents to know they will be in contact and putting out information as they learn and understand more of the changing climate.
Bisbee Unified School District was ahead of the curve. The board voted to delay the start of the school year to mid-August last week during a special meeting. They have a survey out and are collecting responses from parents about how to proceed. They will revisit the topic and discussion at their next meeting.
Fort Huachuca Accommodation Schools
Goodman, updated parents last Thursday, on their current plans and considerations for the start of the school year. Goodman said, in a virtual meeting shared on the Fort Huachuca Schools Facebook page, the plan is for school campuses to open in August with safety protocols in place.
“We have been working for the last four weeks, putting together plans and it seems like everytime we put together a plan something changes,” he said to start the meeting.
Goodman said they are working on plans that center around three different models: online, hybrid and in person. Students who attended classes in person — whether full time or through the hybrid model — will be visually screened by faculty. If after two screens a student is deemed to be showing COVID-19 symptoms the child’s parent will be notified and asked to be picked up.
Goodman asked parents to take their child’s temperature before school and if they are sick with any illness to keep them home so the school can stay as clean and safe as possible. He added they will provide make up work for students if they are absent, no matter how many days they miss, and there will be no awards or recognition for attendance will be given this academic year.
Parents who wish to have their child participate in online school or would like more information about the possible online should reach out to their principal.
“The positive (of pushing the start date back) is it gives us a little more time to plan and more time to get supplies we ordered (that were taking a while to get here),” Goodman said.
Goodman’s concern about the new order is starting the year without knowing if the missed time will have to be made up. He said they could be well into the first semester before knowing if they will have to change their calendar to accommodate for make up days.
“We want to do what’s safe for our students and our staff,” Goodman said.
Benson Unified School District was set to start classes on July 23, but that changed with Governor Ducey’s executive order on Monday.
“In Benson, we’re on a modified schedule, where our students start school earlier than most districts,” said BUSD Superintendent Micah Mortensen. “Because Governor Ducey has ordered that school districts across the state will be starting classes on Aug. 17, our students will have to make up 17 calendar days,” he said.
While the order states there is to be no person in classes until the Aug. 17 date, Mortensen is questioning whether students can start classes at their scheduled time through a distance learning model.
“This week, we’re going to unwrap the governor’s executive order and look at it more closely,” Mortensen said. “We’ll be looking at the possibility of going with a distance learning model this week and should have a decision by next week.”