The Peoria Unified School District governing board, at a special online morning meeting Friday, July 24, voted to postpone in-person classroom instruction at least through Labor Day Weekend, from which students would potentially return on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
The motion, which passed by a 4-1 vote, did include language that in-person could return sooner than that date pending coronavirus data potentially reaching safe health benchmarks, input from resident medical experts, and the district’s own ability to open both safely and efficiently prior to the Sept. 8 date to “allow the data to guide us,” board president David Sandoval said.
The special meeting was originally scheduled for July 21 but was postponed to await Gov. Doug Ducey’s remarks on schools reopening.
The governor on Thursday, July 23, did not give a target date for in-person and teacher-led instruction from the classroom, instead saying COVID-19 data will drive decisions that will be made at the local level.
“I understand the desire to have a specific date to plan. But this virus has not yet responded to any date,” PUSD superintendent Jason Reynolds said. “We need to use the data to drive our decision making and shift our making a specific date to benchmarks and data to determine when it is safe to open schools.”
Mr. Reynolds also announced that the district will put together a group of health experts to review benchmarks as well as to compare those benchmarks to community data.
“I need our parents, staff and community to know that physical and emotional health is our first priority,” he said. “We are committed to that. We also are committed to providing students with a rigorous and engaging learning environment. We all want our schools and facilities to be open to in-person learning, but we must do this in the safest manner possible, and we are also committed to that.”
The vote came after two hours of discussion that opened with the reading of 35 submitted public comments for almost 50 minutes.
The comments were virtually evenly split among residents who think the district should open for in-person learning and those who favor online instruction at least through the first quarter. Some of the submitted comments were merely questions without taking a clear stance one way or the other.
Some of the comments included:
The next hour of the meeting featured discussion among board members.
“I am very disappointed that we are not opening sooner,” said board member Judy Doane, who cast the motion’s loan nay vote. “All the studies I have read show that opening our schools is among the safest things we could do.”
Mr. Sandoval proposed a timetable of two weeks from when the board does agree to return to in-person instruction in order to give students, parents and staff adequate time to transition. Mr. Reynolds added that the district is currently exploring options on how to phase students back to in-person instruction, including plans on how to bring students onto campus in small groups.
“It is reassuring that Peoria Unified and our superintendent have come up with a strategic plan with our own medical task force to make appropriate decisions,” board member Monica Ceja Martinez said. “To me that is reassuring.”
Board member Beverly Pingerelli said priorities need to focus on keeping at-risk populations vulnerable to the virus safe, respecting parents who need to work during the day, the best academic outcomes possible, and providing parents with a choice, including the option for online instruction from home.
“For everyone else, we should plan to open our schools to on-site instruction as soon as the governor permits after Aug. 17 and as the Academy of Pediatrics has recommended,” she said. “That is what we should do as responsible board members and representatives of the community which we serve. I’m empathetic and understand everyone’s fears, including my own.”
The board’s next meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13, and will be streamed live online at peoriaunified.org/Page/122.