BOWIE — Wendy Conger, superintendent of Bowie Unified School District, and her staff welcomed their students back to campus Monday morning for the first time since March.
“It’s been a technically smooth day,” Conger said Monday morning. “Despite all (the changes), everyone was smiling.”
The day started with Conger following the district’s brand new bus to pick up 25 students. Conger said she wanted to follow the bus because it was new for the district and she wanted to ensure the correct students were picked up as well as ensuring students were accompanied by parents and not just left to wait.
Students who rode the bus had their temperature checked, were required to wear masks and were seated in every other seat since they had room to.
Conger praised the parents who dropped their children off at school because of their compliance with the new rules and moving swiftly through the drop-off lane. Parents were not allowed on campus or out of their vehicles per the new safety protocols for the new year.
Conger said parents have a five-minute window to drop their child off before the gates were locked. Late students will have to be escorted to the front office. Conger added parents are supportive of having their children return to school and all but one of her staff returned for school due to health concerns.
Cassandra Hovey has two daughters enrolled at BUSD, one in sixth grade and a sophomore. She said she is thrilled her kids can return to school because they wanted to go back and getting them to do their school work in the spring was a challenge.
“I’d rather them be at school,” Hovey said. “Trying to homeschool was more of a fight. If they are home they don’t want to do any school work.”
Monday marked the beginning of the year and “distance learning” in the classrooms. Conger said most of her students rely on public places like the school or library for internet access, which is needed for virtual learning. Since they don’t have access to it in their homes, the school is being used as a place for students to go as well as provide a social atmosphere for students who haven’t seen their peers.
Conger said it was important to make this process as close as possible to what school is typically like, since they have an increase in kindergarten students and the expectation of having a kindergartener sit in front of a screen and complete work all day isn’t reasonable.
“You have to make sure they feel comfortable and safe,” Conger said.
The Cochise County Office of Emergency Services is recommending to all county schools to delay in-person learning do distance learning as the county as a whole does not meet the benchmarks provided by the state health department. Conger said she is sticking with their plan of distance learning in the school building because her students need it.
“I’m not backing down,” she said. “We’re here to teach.”
Conger added there hasn’t been any complaints from community members about having the students in school. Conger said her students need help with their school work and they can’t expect students to complete online work without the internet, which most of her students don’t have at their homes.
Conger said the government would “have to come force me” if they want to keep students from attending in-person classes.
She added 20 percent of her students require special need services and the only way to give them the help they need is to have them on campus.
BUSD enrollment is up from last year and on Tuesday they had 60 students registered. Most were on campus but some have chosen to do distance learning from their homes on computers or even learning packets. Conger said the enrollment number could increase as they are an open enrollment school and the true first day slated for in-person instruction is Monday.
Of the 56 students, 19 are high schoolers and there are 10 new kindergarten students. The increase in kindergarten students prompted Conger to remove preschool so the preschool teacher could help with K-2.
New safety protocols include having breakfast and lunch delivered to students to eat in the classroom, temperature checks and mandatory masks for those in the school. Breaks are given to students from individual screen times as well as “nature walks” to allow students time outside.
“It’s like no school I’ve seen,” Conger said. “We’re taking kids’ temperatures and it’s sad. It’s like a medical facility.”
Hovey said the precautions the district has put in place have made her feel comfortable sending her children back to school, as well as the communication between the district and families.
“You can take as much precaution (as possible) and still get this virus,” Hovey said.