Scottsdale Unified School District parents, teachers and staff remain divided on in-person and online educational preferences for students during the continuing global pandemic.
Approximately 8,000 views were reflected on YouTube as eyes were upon the SUSD Governing Board’s special Sept. 9 meeting broadcast from district headquarters.
Divided reactions were even reflected with about 50 thumbs up and 53 thumbs down on the online platform that served as a forum for leaders to address recent survey results received from all stakeholders.
Board members discussed the results of the parent survey conducted Sept. 3-7.
Based on the data, they determined the next steps to begin phasing in the district’s on campus learning, including authorizing the superintendent to continue providing the enhanced distance learning model for families who chose to remain with it through the end of the current semester on Dec. 18, and to implement a phased-in “full return in person” model for families who chose that option.
While a hybrid model is rejected again among the majority, the district is still implementing somewhat of a “natural hybrid” consistent with the Arizona Department of Health Services metrics since the district is in a “yellow” category, according to the agreed upon government health benchmarks.
If health metrics permit, students will return to campus in grade-level cohorts according to the following schedule:
Parent survey results indicated 50% of the nearly 12,000 respondents are prepared for their children to return to school classrooms now; 34% preferred to have them stay in online learning until public health metrics are categorized as “green” for two weeks; 25% supported a hybrid model with two half-days of in-person instruction each week.
Likewise, SUSD teachers and staff reflected a similar split between those supporting returning to school now and those who also want to wait until the metrics reflect green.
“Our community is divided. They have different opinions,” said SUSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel.
“Our community is split equally between returning now and waiting.”
Something the SUSD community was united on, however, was that there was not enough interest in the community to proceed with the initially proposed hybrid model planned to combine daily on-campus and at-home learning.
“Based on the data, it appears that we have a natural hybrid but what we are proposing is not two days on and two days off. We are proposing that we have half of our families prepared to come back now,” Dr. Menzel said.
While stating the vast majority of people want to return right now, Dr. Menzel noted the many moving parts involved with completely opening schools, from staffing to supplying classrooms to accommodate those who wish to attend in person.
The staff survey also revealed a recurring theme around safety, health and protocols, including mask wearing, cleaning, personal protection equipment, compliance with expectations and metrics; concerns about a hybrid and logistics needed to provide in-person and online instruction at the same time.
“Our staff feedback is similar to what we saw in our parent survey,” Dr. Menzel pointed out.
Meanwhile, the district wants parents of elementary school students to commit to one of two learning scenarios for their students to follow through the first semester.
Parents will choose to participate in a phased-in, full return of students to school buildings for full school days or to remain in the Enhanced District Learning program, which 85% of SUSD students have been in since school began Aug. 10.
The remaining 15% enrolled in the district’s K-12 Scottsdale Online program have committed to continue through the first semester.
To accommodate the choices K-5 parents make, the district next week will assess the need to modify current staffing assignments including some reassignments that may be needed to offer in-person learning, which may even result in some students getting new teachers.
“Everybody is going to sacrifice a little something,” Dr. Menzel said.
“Not everybody is going to get everything they want, but more kids are going to get what they need.”
Aside from possibly having different teachers on board, students and staff can expect a different atmosphere in the wake of a COVID-19 climate such as requiring all to wear a face covering while on campus, visitors not allowed at school except for emergencies and classes will not go on field trips.
“Our elementary school students and parents have to realize that the classrooms will look different,” said SUSD board member Barbara Perleberg, recognizing that staffing presents a “big challenge.”
She added that if that makes parents and students uncomfortable, then they should select the online learning option, although it is not for everyone, she said.
“The division is clear, but also the passion. I am incredibly grateful for the staff willing to meet the challenges. That is a huge hurdle. It is stressful for our teachers and parents. We do recognize this as a crisis that we are all in. We are looking at possibly facing that we won’t be in the green until who knows when,” she said, referring to the metrics.
Amid questions from board members, Dr. Menzel and administrative leaders reaffirmed the decision to base school openings and potential re-closings on state public health metrics and guidelines.
“As we watch how this plays out, we want to make sure that when we open we stay open. We do not want to have to shut down quickly. The research, while it’s still emerging, and so the research today might be different tomorrow. Less risk at the elementary in terms of how the kids both get and spread compared to students that are older than 10.
SUSD officials plan to watch and learn from other districts that have opened to full in-person learning as well as strategize to ensure a safe environment, Dr. Menzel said.
“We are not epidemiologists or public health officials, so to deviate from these guidelines now would open us up to questions, challenges and scrutiny, I believe,” Dr. Menzel said.
He noted efforts will be in place to remain compliant with public health recommendations for staff and students’ well-being as they “follow the science.”
While following the science is recommended, Dr. Menzel said the district cannot guarantee students will always be 6 feet away from each other since “kids just tend to gravitate toward each other.”
“It is really hard to predict how everything will fall out. These are extraordinary times,” Dr. Menzel said.
More communication will be received from school principals soon for pupils to commit to a specific learning mode as efforts continue with staffing and supplying each school to ensure a safe, healthy and productive learning environment.