Deer Valley Unified School District students will potentially return to campuses for in-person learning as early as Monday, Oct. 5, and the district is literally preparing buildings in anticipation.
The district has configured five of its schools at the elementary and middle levels as “model schools” to provide a template for safeguards to protect against the coronavirus. A sixth - at the high school level - will be finished by Thursday, Sept. 10.
The idea will be for principals, parents and students to get a feel for the changes the model schools will provide and apply one of the models to each district school as it relates to elements such as social distancing and foot-traffic management.
The campus schools used for models were purposely selected in order to provide examples for the diverse building layouts and designs found among the district’s 39 schools that house some 39,000 students and almost 4,000 staff members.
One is an indoor school with traditional hallways; another is a school with outdoor hallways. There are newer schools selected, as well as the district’s second oldest school, which, at almost 60 years old, has its own unique configurations.
“We tried to make sure that we have a good sampling of the different types of our schools so that we don’t get folks that go and see something and say, ‘Well that can’t be done at my school,’” Deputy Superintendent Gary Zehrbach said Sept. 4. “So they would go to a school that is most close to theirs, and then they take that and they apply those learnings to their own classrooms.”
Mr. Zehrbach and his team will reveal details in the planning when the DVUSD governing board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8. The meeting will be streamed online at livestream.com/dvusd.
Safety guided the process, as all district eyes keep a watch on benchmarks related to the spread of COVID-19. Those numbers will impact the board’s decision on an exact reopening date, but meanwhile district teams have been working to prepare campuses for the return to in-person learning.
“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 during a lengthy discussion among members at their Aug. 25 meeting. “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 for a on-campus learning includes a staggered reentry plan that could see kindergarten through second grade students, and high school seniors, returning Monday, Oct. 5.
The model schools took on the task of setting up both classroom areas and communal areas, which include cafeterias, nurses offices and the front offices.
The changes include protocols such as maintaining 6 feet of distancing as well as designating specific doors and hallways as either entrance or exit in order to maintain a safe flow of movement in spots where gatherings are likely. The changes within classrooms themselves showcase desks and/or table layouts that provide safe distance between students.
This coming week will see district principals touring the model campuses, gathering ideas from them and implementing those ideas on their own respective campuses.
Guiding the changes, Mr. Zehrbach explained, were recommendations from state and national agencies, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for safe practices, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Arizona Department of Health Services and Maricopa County health officials also provided recommendations “with broad parameters,” Mr. Zehrbach said.
The district’s own team of advisers in building the model schools features a stakeholder committee comprised of community members that include some with expertise in emergency management.
Together, they wrote an operational plan.
“You put that together and then you mesh it with what’s feasible,” Mr. Zehrbach said. “And that’s kind of the tricky part.”
One tricky part has proven to be bussing.
CDC guidelines on bussing call for a model of one student per seat spaced six feet apart, or, basically, every other seat. Mr. Zehrbach explained how such an approach isn’t feasible in a district the size of DVUSD, which transports thousands of students. Such a recommendation would theoretically involve purchasing new busses as well as hiring new drivers to accommodate that kind of separated seating.
The board will continue return-to-school protocol discussions on Sept. 8.