It lacked the usual fanfare of a first day of school - such as 75 percent of students missing - and with good reason. This was about getting straight to business.
Deer Valley Unified School District opened up for in-person learning for the first time in six months on Thursday, Sept. 24. The staggered approach to bring students back began with seniors only, including at Deer Valley High School, 18424 N. 51st Ave., Glendale.
With only 340 students on campus instead of the almost 1,450 when at full capacity, the hallways and walkways between periods featured a fraction of the usual foot-traffic to be expected. As it is, most seniors have a half-day schedule.
A couple hand-drawn “welcome back” banners adorned the walls. But since the semester actually began on Aug. 3 with an all-virtual learning plan online, schoolwork has already been well under way, and there was more catching up to do than celebrating this “first” day back.
“The online system is not working for a lot of kids,” Deer Valley principal Kim Crooks said while walking the hallways during Thursday’s return to campus. “Our grades aren’t good. It’s been a huge concern. That’s why we wanted our seniors back first because we’re worried about graduation.”
Another concern is the potential of closing campuses again, should coronavirus numbers work against Maricopa County in the coming weeks and months. Such a swing could see a swift return to online learning, leaving students, staff and parents to go back to what became a familiar model in the spring and summer.
Although this time, Ms. Crooks said, the adjustment would be easier.
“They could shut us down today and we wouldn’t skip a beat,” she said Thursday. “The virtual classroom is already set up. That just takes one phone call or email to our community and we can do that very quickly.”
As of Thursday, 85 students were enrolled in the Deer Valley Online Academy, and another 90 have special approval to continue taking Deer Valley High School curriculum online through the rest of the fall semester. By Oct. 14, all students at the high school -- other than the 90 -- will be back in the campus building.
By the beginning of the spring, those 90 online learners are also expected to return to campus instruction.
Thursday’s first day back revealed a quiet campus resembling more a summer school session. More than 70 picnic tables were spaced safely apart throughout the campus, and only around 150 students were expected to have lunch on campus as a first go-around with those new procedures.
“They’re all happy to be back,” physical education teacher and varsity football coach Dan Friedman said Thursday. He had five seniors in his second period. “We got some housekeeping stuff taken care of with iPads for seniors, paperwork. We went off to the weight room and lifted. They got to run around the gym a little bit and shoot baskets.”
The football team’s first game of the 2020 season arrives Oct. 2 on the road against Goldwater.
The staggered return of students to DVUSD 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.