Agua Fria district expedites in-person return to comply with governor’s order

Litchfield, Avondale districts were already set for March 15 return

This colorful sign greeted students at Verrado Heritage Elementary on March 1.
This colorful sign greeted students at Verrado Heritage Elementary on March 1.
[Litchfield Elementary School District photo]

Agua Fria Union High School District officials planned to welcome students back to campus full time March 22, but quickly pivoted this week to comply with Gov. Doug Ducey’s March 3 executive order requiring schools to fully reopen March 15.

Litchfield and Avondale elementary districts were already on track to transition their students to full-time in-person learning March 15 so they weren’t affected by the executive order, but it came as a surprise to Agua Fria officials.

All three districts’ offices will be closed March 8 to 12 for spring break.

“Because we had not received prior communication from the Governor’s office on this decision, we had to move quickly to update our plans and communicate out to families and staff,” Dr. Dennis Runyan, AFUHSD superintendent, said March 4 via email.

Students whose families chose remote learning, have the option to continue their classes online through the end of the school year.

“The parents are currently being surveyed as to their determination if they will return or remain in remote learning for the final quarter of the 2020-21 school year,” he said. “Previous requests for feedback had indicated a close to 50 percent split for both options with around one half of the students opting to stay in remote learning.”

AFUHSD operates five high schools — Agua Fria, Canyon View, Desert Edge, Millennium and Verrado, and two alternative schools — serving 8,700 students in Avondale, Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Waddell and part of Glendale.

The number students enrolled in each model won’t be available until after spring break.

Like many others across the state, AFUHSD students began the 2020-21 academic year in distance learning mode. They transitioned to a hybrid model Oct. 12, but because of skyrocketing cases of COVID-19 in the Southwest Valley, the Governing Board voted to return them to distance learning Nov. 9 and voted in December to continue the online model into the second semester.

Special needs students and those who had no off-campus alternatives during the week, have been accommodated onsite throughout the year.

Dr. Runyan said despite the expedited schedule, the district will be ready to welcome students back to campus March 15.

“We have safety protocols in place to follow CDC and health department guidelines for managing students and staff, but it will require wearing of masks and continuous spacing procedures. At the high school level this can remain challenging, but we have put a great effort into this planning,” he said.

“The option for teachers and educational staff to be in the B1 vaccine group has allowed options to get vaccinated as well as they pursue their professional work,” Dr. Runyan said. “This continues to be a monumental planning task and we are fortunate to have staff and a learning community that will follow the expected safety guidelines as we finish out the school year. Staff and students have been exceptionally supportive in a most challenging pandemic.”

For more information and updates, visit

Families whose students need transportation to their respective schools must register via the district’s parent portal app.  Parents interested in a portal how-to can watch the video below:

If they experience problems registering, they may call AFUHSD route coordinator Avery Sponsler at 623-932-7023 or email her at

Litchfield Elementary School District

LESD officials began transitioning its students whose families chose the in-person learning model back to their classrooms full time on a staggered schedule in February.

LESD operates 11 elementary and five middle schools serving about 12,000 preschool through eighth-grade students in Avondale, Buckeye, Goodyear and Litchfield Park.

Kindergartners through second-graders returned Feb. 22 and third- through fifth-graders returned March 1, with sixth- through eighth-graders to follow March 15.

More than 75% of students are accessing in-person learning, Superintendent Dr. Jodi Gunning said via email March 5, with the remaining students enrolled in the district’s new Digital Learning Academy, which includes live teaching lessons and strong social emotional learning.

“We are grateful that Arizona prioritized educators for the vaccine and that our families have been so flexible and supportive. Students and staff are thrilled to be back on campus,” Dr. Gunning said. “Of course, we also offer online learning for families who prefer high-quality education from the comfort of their own homes. All in all, our health and safety protocols are working, and the transition back to in-person learning has gone very well.”

Avondale Elementary School District

AESD serves more than 5,700 preschool through eighth-grade students in Avondale and Goodyear,

Students whose families chose the in-person learning model had been on a hybrid schedule since mid-December and were scheduled to return to class full time March 15, district spokeswoman Kenya Vasquez said via email March 4.

“We will welcome families who choose the in-person learning model for the rest of the school year,” she said. “We are providing the option for families to return in person from all models, and we are currently gathering input from families to finalize those numbers.

Digital Academy and the distance flex will continue to be an option for students, she said.

Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at or 760-963-1697.