Over the past 12 days, the Scottsdale Unified School District has begun the process of returning to in-person classes as part of the educational entity’s phased approach to return to the classroom.
After months of uncertainty about the school year, students, teachers and parents were informed by district leaders students would be able to return starting Sept. 14. The plan prioritized that pre-school and special education students begin in-person classes prior to the rest of the student population, which is set to return by Oct. 12.
The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board, on Sept. 15, was provided a presentation on the exact measures district leaders had devised plans to reopen schools safely. Precautions like desk-to-desk distancing in classrooms and face mask requirements are among the many accommodations being enforced districtwide.
“There is no choice here that is ‘Here’s your cake and eat it too,’” SUSD board member Barbara Perleberg said. “Whether you are struggling with [online] or you are struggling with in-person, there are sacrifices on both choices.”
--- Barbara Perleberg
While there are set guidelines, certain things like limits on the amount of in-person students have not been made and are ultimately up to the discretion of the schools. This has been a point of contention because it might jeopardize the effectiveness or ability to safely social distance in classrooms.
Becky Williams, president of the Scottsdale Education Association, says that despite that concern, a lot of work has been done to make sure things go smoothly.
“I think that the plans are laid out in the best way that we know how to do it, as far as making sure that we’re meeting the educational needs of our students and keeping our community safe at the same time,” Ms. Williams said.
As a science teacher, she said that it’s quite difficult to execute certain aspects of the class like interactive labs when learning remotely or even with distancing enforced. The push to bring students in-person caused conflict throughout the district particularly between parents and school employees.
However, after being heavily involved in the planning of the return, Ms. Williams understands the safety concerns for students and teachers alike.
“There’s a lot of emotions involved,” Ms. Williams said. “There’s excitement and just wanting to feel like things are back to normal by having our students in our classrooms, but [there’s that] caution and fear as well.”
Although this has been an emotional process, a lot of careful consideration was put into what would be necessary to start bringing in students again.
According to the district’s Superintendent, Dr. Scott Menzel, due to having so many different concerns, it was hard to land on an end-all, be-all solution to reopening.
“We have been trying to anticipate as best we can, recognizing that we can’t anticipate everything,” Dr. Menzel said. “We’re going to modify as we go based on what we learn as we return to learning in person.”
He further explained that the reason they went for a phased approach was first after observing success in other districts across the Valley.
“There’s an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t work and so [that’s why] we adopted this approach of phasing in a ‘return to learn’ so that we could start small, learn from those experiences [and] bring back our students with the greatest need,” he said.
As more students head back to campus, Dr. Menzel said while they have been rolling with the punches fairly well, this process has been difficult for people at all levels of the district. With the pandemic constantly evolving, it’s hard to predict what needs the school district may have in the future.
“We’re taking one day, one challenge at a time so that we can come out on the other side of this pandemic a stronger school district,” Dr. Menzel said.
Reporter Caroline Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org