A clearer picture has emerged as to what the next school year will look like in the Peoria Unified School District, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
District officials last night at a public governing board meeting released general details on two options for how teaching will be accomplished in the coming year.
There will be a classroom option, in which teaching will occur physically in the classroom with safety measures in place five days a week, and there will be a virtual option for parents who feel they are not ready to release their children into a classroom environment.
Additionally, there will be a contingency plan that will be a hybrid of the two if the district is asked to vastly decrease capacity of school sites, based on the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Officials did not release many details for the plans, stating a study session will be held 9 a.m., July 1, in which the plans will be shared comprehensively.
“Using our survey data, our discussion with our parent group, endless feed back from social media and parent emails, and the vast work of our task force, detailed plans for the two options will be brought forth at our July 1 study session,” said Shawn Duguid, chief operations safety and risk management officer.
There have been 66,458 cases and 1,535 deaths of COVID-19 as of Friday morning, up 3,428 and 45, respectively, from Thursday, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The numbers of cases per 100,000 residents in the state is 913 as of Friday, using 2019 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Maricopa County is below that at 883.
ICU and inpatient bed capacity hovers around 85%, according to some reports. All this making Arizona a hot spot for coronavirus activity.
The district’s COVID-19 task force completed a list of recommendations as to how to address the new year under these circumstances, and delivered it to administration, June 18. The recommendations were vetted by executive directors and crafted into 15 categories.
Mr. Duguid, who heads the task force, said then he reached out to 15 principals and asked for an active parent on their campuses to discuss in detail what a return to school might look like to them. He said the schools comprised of a cross section of the district, representing all areas and demographics, both elementary and high school.
Mr. Duguid said across the board, those parents wanted a return to normalcy as much as it was feasible and wanted their children to have “a complete school experience.”
Parents also felt it was extremely important to offer choice to the community, because some parents are reticent to send their children back to school and want the option of an online platform.
A big topic of conversation revolved around the wearing of masks.
“It will likely come as no surprise that the conversation included much discussion on masks. We have heard from countless parents and staff members regarding masks during the school day and while the group was almost unilaterally opposed to them, our county and cities are currently under mandate to wear masks in public places,” Mr. Duguid said. “We will continue to monitor that mandate when bringing this forward on July 1.”
The district released a survey in May to gauge parent desire about the coming year. Results will be discussed in detail July 1.
Governing board member Monica Ceja Martinez said the survey seemed one-sided in its dialogue. The district must take an active role in engaging dialogue from all members of the community, she said.
“It is frustrating to not know a plan. I am a planner as well. I do appreciate and acknowledge that this isn't a competition or race. But right now what is dictating our action plan is a result of COVID-19 and keeping safety is our number one priority, so I want to share that sentiment with the community, that not knowing is causing angst. But our intent is to make the right decision,” Ms. Ceja Martinez said. “For everybody who sent us feedback, it is a gift. ... Parent choice is your choice to put your child in the best and safest environment. Thank you to everybody who has stayed connected and communicated and advocated. Thank you everybody who has offered their insight.”
The district will continue to gather feedback after the July 1 meeting.
Deputy Superintendent Jason Reynolds said being adaptable for whatever situation is one of the most important things the district must continue to do.
“One of the task force’s main goals is to make sure our staff and students and our families are prepared to adapt and move in and out of potentially online and face-to-face if need be. And in order to do that, we will most definitely need to keep our task force together, meeting regularly, monitoring our situation if not monthly, then weekly, and probably daily as we face this significant challenge,” he said.
At the same meeting, the governing board approved the use of Florida Virtual School Global, an online learning platform, to allow for online instruction during the pandemic.
Officials say it offers opportunities for K-12 students to learn at home full-time with robust, aligned curriculum and courses. It is easy-to-navigate for students and teachers and includes comprehensive professional development for virtual teaching with high expectations for live lessons and student support, officials said.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.