A final reiteration of new safety rules in place means a return to in-person learning is officially here for Deer Valley Unified School District.
The district which serves almost 34,000 students begins its staggered return to campus learning on Thursday, Sept. 24, when pre-kindergarten and Head Start students, kindergarten students, and high school seniors return to their respective campuses after six months of COVID-19 closures, procedures, conflicting opinions, and, finally, re-opening planning.
At the governing board’s Sept. 22 meeting, the message was clearly one of keeping focus.
“As we have indicated in the past we do plan on taking a firm stance on the facemask requirement,” deputy superintendent of administrative leadership and services Dr. Gary Zehrbach said during his presentation to the board about ongoing safety measures in place for a return to campus learning. “This has been identified as the No. 1 mitigation strategy in our public school settings, and really outside of those settings as well.”
Letters went out to all district parents this week to restate the safety measures each campus will require. The letter “was firm,” Mr. Zehrbach characterized, and indicated that a parent would have one hour to pick up a student if there is a refusal to wear a mask. If that was not done, disciplinary action would follow, including a suspension.
Other protocols were covered, including coronavirus reporting procedures and notifications should they arise.
In the end, all bus routes will begin on Sept. 24.
A maximum of two students will be allowed per seat, with siblings required to sit together. Buses will be disinfected between each route, and again each evening. Masks are required at all times on the bus.
Starting Oct. 1, curbside meal service will move to Thursdays only, and will include five days’ worth of meals. Meals continue to be free for all kids 18 and under, including students not yet attending in person, younger siblings, remote learners, and non-DVUSD students.
Some parents are indeed choosing to keep their students as distance learners. A Facebook group called “Parents of Deer Valley Online Academy” gives parents and families a forum to talk about issues.
“After much deliberation my husband and I decided to move forward with DVOA for now and to follow Covid,” one user posted Sept. 21. “Our older kiddo is in 2nd grade. I feel so bad doing this to him as being at school is fun with friends.”
The staggered return will continue with first through third grades, seventh grade, and high school juniors on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Following that will be fourth through sixth grades, eighth grade, and high school sophomores on Monday, Oct. 5, and finally K-8 middle school grades and high school freshmen on Wednesday, Oct. 14.
Among the topics discussed at the Sept. 22 board meeting was a lack of specific air filter purification systems for every district classroom. Those systems are unavailable until at least November, at a total cost of $750,000.
“$750,000 is less than what we used to spend on travel,” board member Jenny Frank said. “It’s gonna be a long cold, flu and covid season is what everyone is predicting. So I would like to investigate or look at how we could get that provided for our classrooms.”
Ms. Frank also requested a study to see how many district staff members -- certified, classified and administrative -- have resigned and given safety for themselves or family members as a reason.
“It’s fair to look at that, too,” she said, asking the board to consider the study as a future agenda item. “If we’re concerned that people might quit because we’re asking them to do too much, I think we also need to look at are we losing people because they don’t feel safe with the plan that the board approved.”
District human resources director Jenna Moffitt said that a stated goal is to establish a permanent substitute teacher at each site to be on stand-by in the event emergency staffing is needed. As of Tuesday, 29 district sites have a permanent sub and 10 have not yet filled that position.