With COVID-19 numbers trending in healthier directions, Deer Valley Unified School District is heavily involved in planning scenarios to reopen schools for in-person learning.
The governing board met Tuesday night, Aug. 25, for a more than two-hour discussion update on COVID-19. There were no action items, and public comments were suspended for the meeting, which involved department representatives offering information for consideration.
“We want to be able to be prepared ramping up with everything that we need to be prepared with so that as soon as we know that we have a go that we can go,” board President Ann Ordway said toward the end of the discussion. “This is a huge undertaking, and we are trying to fill all the gaps, all the voids, before we open so we can do it right.”
One scenario as presented by Deputy Superintendent Gary Zehrbach shows a deadline of Friday, Aug. 28, for teams to assemble a model school set up with COVID precautions, plus a staggered re-entry plan that could see kindergarten through second grade students and high school seniors returning for in-person instruction on Monday, Oct. 5.
Safe benchmarks regarding the spread of COVID-19 are driving much of the board’s decision on when to re-open for certain. The benchmarks are recommendations from the Arizona Department of Health Services, and are broken down into red, yellow and green, based on the safest numbers to open schools either for full in-person instruction or a hybrid version that would combine both in-person with distance learning online.
The scenario that sees Oct. 5 as a potential first day back hinges on the district’s area meeting three consecutive weeks on “green.”
At that point, K-2 students as well as high school seniors could be the first students to return for in-person instruction on their respective campuses.
Before getting to that stage, the district plans to survey families the week of Sept. 14 to determine how many students are expected to return to campus and how many are expected to remain distance learners from home. The district would notify teachers that same week, and teachers would return to buildings to prep their classrooms the week of Sept. 28.
Governing board members offered questions during Tuesday night’s scenario discussion.
Board member Jenny Frank spoke about the possibility of online students who decide to remain online getting to stay with their current online teachers, even if those teachers return to in-person learning as well.
“After the board makes a decision on when we might be returning, we will be able to deploy surveys to our parents and get as solid of an idea as we can on how many of our students will be returning to us in-person and how many will be remaining online,” deputy superintendent Jenna Moffitt answered. “Once we have that information we will better be able to decide if we have the staff to run two separate models or if we don’t.”
Some teachers, Ms. Frank continued, are medically at high risk for coronavirus, and as a result have been planning to continue teaching online. Those teachers, Ms. Frank explained, are anxious about their positions should a scenario not support both online and in-person instruction.
“There will be potential opportunities still for some online need even if we don’t offer both programs,” Ms. Moffitt answered. “There could be some availability still there for teachers that did already qualify to go into those positions. But in general, if we don’t have the availability then we will have to meet with employees again to look at options or other accommodations that they would qualify for.”
Board member Darcy Tweedy sought clarification on the word “hybrid” as it relates to DVUSD proposals.
The provided benchmarks model needed to be met base “hybrid” on a scenario that sees half of a student population attending school on one day and the other half attending on another day so that distancing can be achieved. The hybrid model DVUSD is bringing forth, however, is a staggered introduction of grades “which is not hybrid,” Ms. Tweedy said.
The semantics are critical, she explained, to measure the appropriate benchmark goals while avoiding confusion.
“We have gone round and round with the state on the hybrid concept,” DVUSD Superintendent Curtis Finch said. “‘Hybrid’ has many definitions, and the state also wants us to exercise our own discretion on what we consider ‘hybrid.’”
Other reports presented at Tuesday’s meeting covered items such as safe return-to-school protocols, staff coverage for self-isolation periods because of COVID-19, face covering and social distancing reminders, managing illnesses, and reporting COVID-19.
“Since June we have encountered employees with concerns about others not properly wearing their PPE (personal protective equipment); regarding others who are not mindful of social distancing protocols; and perhaps not even sensitive to others’ feelings regarding COVID-19 or the expectations of what we should be doing in the work environment,” Ms. Moffitt said.
The board will next meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, in a live stream online at livestream.com/dvusd.