Scottsdale Unified School District students, parents, faculty and staff had certain pictures in mind after receiving emails, surveys and more on the district’s “Return to Learn” plans for a revamped school year.
The information received and the realities presented are getting blurred.
Expectations for in-person instruction are out of focus with an aperture of concerns widening on having enough personal protection equipment, social distancing for class sizes at capacity; displacement involving confusion surrounding online classes, not being able to remain in the feeder schools and/or retaining the same teachers and students.
These were some issues presented to the SUSD Governing Board during a lengthy Tuesday, Sept. 15, discussion as stakeholders tuned into the live-streamed meeting.
Leaders took comments and reports on updates for Return to Learn progress that included retrofitting of campuses with signs encouraging mask wearing and hand hygiene, installed hand-sanitizing stations and social-distancing markers.
Although board members and onlookers for that night’s broadcast got a chance to view some pictures recently taken of the campus changes, the Independent requested twice on Sept. 14 for pictures to help illustrate the new look, but was declined by the district spokeswoman.
SUSD Director of Building Services Dennis Roehler showed a plethora of slides regarding logistics and safety from the time students wake up and leave their homes to the time they enter and leave campuses.
He sought to ensure that a subliminal message was sent, he said, noting all the changes underway and that student learning was “first and foremost.”
“The very first thing you’ll see is the signage,” Mr. Roehler said of the various sizes. “Some campuses aren’t fully done.”
There is no shortage of hand-washing stations. All schools do not have the anticipated signs or water bottle fill stations yet. An adequate amount of cleaning supplies and protectants were donated by the city of Phoenix and local community groups.
Heating and air conditioning retrofitting is another problem to undertake as A/C unit changes for every classroom would be “extremely expensive,” he noted.
Mr. Roehler stated such things as backpack sprayers, resembling what is used to spray weeds, will be available to clean and disinfect schools. He noted high-touch points such as faucets and desks will receive special cleaning attention.
Showing a picture of how the cafeterias look, he described how dots will decorate seats at the table indicating where children may sit. Only two children per table would be allowed to enable 6-feet social and physical distancing whether eating the grab-and-go meals in the classroom or cafeteria.
“Cafeterias at the middle schools and high schools will be a challenge,” he added of the daunting task. “Like everything else, we are going to see how things go and adjust where we see necessary.”
The sentiment was echoed by SUSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel and board members as they stressed the need for flexibility as changes occur.
Phase-in efforts have begun for students returning in person on Sept. 14 with special education students, followed by the youngest student population on Sept. 21, then older pupils scheduled to return by October.
Highlighting a “number of things,” Dr. Menzel noted the district is not doing a full return for students yet and that the district is in compliance with recommended benchmarks to begin in-person hybrid learning.
He detailed preliminary reports received about the first day children were welcomed back on campus and described how administrators greeted students as they would under normal conditions, how teachers read to students, how classes participated in activities, and how teachers educated students on new regulations on wearing masks.
“Students are doing a fantastic job wearing masks,” Dr. Menzel said.
He pointed out the district will continue troubleshooting and if necessary will “hit the pause button,” since everything has to be reversible if students need to return to full online learning.
“There are some teachers who are not happy and some parents who are not happy,” he said, addressing class sizes and teacher shifts.
“We don’t have all the details yet and we are still in progress,” said Dr. Ibi Haghighat, SUSD assistant superintendent elementary education.
Addressing the next steps for principals and teachers preparing for kindergarteners through second-graders to return on Sept. 21, Dr. Haghighat recognized the distorted picture presented to accommodate the desire to return to learn in person or remain in enhanced distanced learning.