East Valley school districts reopen with virtual offerings

Posted 7/27/20

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, in coordination with Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, this summer declared that the first day of school for in-person learning will be delayed until Aug. …

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East Valley school districts reopen with virtual offerings


Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, in coordination with Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, this summer declared that the first day of school for in-person learning will be delayed until Aug. 17 due to concerns with COVID-19.

Schools will be able to conduct distance learning before then, should they choose, and the Higley, Queen Creek and Apache Junction districts in the east Valley have plans to do so.

Higley USD

An “Operation Reopen Higley Task Force” for Higley Unified School District that started work in May included subcommittees for human resources, education, food and support services.

“(T)he teams have been working really, really hard. Because we could sit for days and have conversations about what we could so, what should we do, what might happen, but then we had to get busy with putting some pen to paper and ideas down and start creating work and outline it,” Dr. Dawn Foley, assistant superintendent of educational services, said at a recent work study and meeting of the district’s Governing Board.

HUSD instruction for 2020-21 starts July 27 online.

“This decision allows us to maintain our fall, winter and spring breaks as scheduled. We know that many families plan on these times and we want to be as consistent as possible and not change our previously approved calendar,” Dr. Mike Thomason, HUSD superintendent, said in a letter to parents.

“Gov. Ducey’s executive order will not allow in-person learning until at least Aug. 17, and it is very possible that this date may be extended. This will require that our instruction for all students will begin remotely on July 27,” he said.

Once the in-person learning is allowed, the district will offer both on-campus and online learning, according to husd.org.

For those families who wish for their students to return to in-person/on campus learning when it is permitted, this option includes, according to the website:

  • Typical five days a week schedule.
  • Preventative safety measures and enhanced cleaning protocols.
  • Physical distancing may not always be possible but will be implemented when feasible.
  • Mask/face coverings are required, per municipal ordinance, when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Elementary lunch, recess and specials will happen with modified schedules.
  • Secondary elective offerings will be similar to historical options.
  • Instruction in core content.
  • Limited sharing of devices, supplies and curriculum materials as much as possible.
  • Social-emotional support provided.

There will also be an option for families who prefer for their students to continue their learning online only. The teacher assigned may or may not be from the student’s home school. This depends on the number of students who choose the online-only option and the reallocation of teachers and resources to meet the needs of these students, the website states.

This option includes:

  • Five days a week.
  • Devices will be provided to students.
  • Instruction in core content.
  • Social-emotional support provided.
  • Canvas will be used as the primary learning platform for communication, lessons, assignment and weekly updates.
  • Accountable grading practices and ongoing feedback.
  • Students will be enrolled in the appropriate grade level/course offerings.
  • For high schools and middle schools, not all electives will be available online due to the availability of resources and instructors.
  • For elementary schools, specials will continue to be offered via online instruction through Canvas.

Queen Creek USD

Online learning begins for all Queen Creek Unified School District students on Aug. 3. It will continue until Arizona Gov. Ducey approves students’ return to the classroom, according to qcusd.org.

All students will begin the intermittent remote learning model of instruction led by QCUSD teachers via Google Classroom unless they have registered for Queen Creek Virtual Academy --- a long-term online learning model.

A return-to-school advisory committee and administrative cabinet were set up to make safe, responsible, and reasonable recommendations and decisions to continue to provide a safe and positive learning environment for students and staff, QCUSD Executive Director Erika Copeland told the Governing Board June 2, according to the minutes of the meeting.

“The district will stay informed with latest information from state and local health officials, finalize an action plan, order required supplies and materials and provide clear, continuous communication with the community,” she said.

The district’s return-to-school action plan includes sections on cleaning and sanitation, PPE/health and safety, contact limiting, training, signage, communication, transportation, food and nutrition, and events.

The cleaning and sanitation portion includes:

  • Hand sanitizers near classroom entries.
  • High-touch surfaces sanitized throughout the day.
  • All sites will be cleaned on a scheduled basis with electrostatic disinfecting machines.
  • Clorox Wipes have been ordered for each school by the case.
  • Playground equipment will continue to have regularly scheduled disinfecting.

PPE/health and safety items include:

  • Students and staff may wear a facial covering to school/work if they wish. Facial coverings are recommended but not required in QCUSD.
  • Clear face shields have been ordered to support staff members who need to work in close proximity with students and desire to have a face shield.
  • Parents are responsible for determining their child’s health status before arriving at school.
  • Parents are responsible for keeping their child at home should they present with any symptoms of illness.

If families are not comfortable with their child attending school in-person when school buildings are back open to students, the student can continue online learning by registering for the QC Virtual Academy, according to a COVID-19 FAQ provided by the school district.

Apache Junction

Apache Junction Unified School District had a return-to-school task force evaluate and prepare a number of options for the 2020-21 school year. It was spearheaded by Heather Wallace, executive director of educational services; Susan Doyle, human resources and payroll director; and Dr. Krista Anderson, superintendent.

The committee came up with three learning models for students, Ms. Wallace said at a recent AJUSD Governing Board meeting.

“We have the in-person model, the hybrid model and the online model. Now with school buildings being closed, the choice that we have to educate students would be an online model,” she said.

Each student will be given a device to access the Internet for online learning. For those in Kindergarten through second grade, it will be an iPad; and those in third-12th grades will be given a Chromebook.

“So it’s important to us that we remind the community that the governor closed the school buildings, but that we’re still here as an education community to make sure that we’re doing what we can for the students within Apache Junction,” Ms. Wallace said.

Preschool students, who will not be given a school device, will be taught with online participation with classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, photo sharing and social time with classmates, preschool project kits and in other ways, she said.

The instructional day is 9 a.m.-2 p.m. for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“So students would be online with their class and with their teacher. There will be whole groups, small groups and individual teaching that happens each day for students in the area of reading, math, social studies, science, writing, and social and emotional learning,” Ms. Wallace said. “Students will also engage in physical education, music, library and art class. All students would have 30 minutes of lunch and throughout the day there will be 24 minutes of recess.”

The school day for seventh through 12th grade students would also be 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

“The difference here is that students are going to follow their class schedule, meeting with each period teacher for the specific amount of time,” Ms. Wallace said. “Teachers would instruct students in their core class each day. Students will have their elective classes each day. Students will have lunch for 30 minutes during the school day and time to engage socially with classmates.”

Mobile hotspots will be provided to students who do not have Internet access, which one AJUSD Governing Board member said would allow schooling to take place anywhere.

“So it sounds to me like with this distance learning that as long as our students had whatever device that they’re going to use or the district provides, that they could do this distance learning from anywhere as long as they had Internet. So maybe the parent still has to work, but the child is in Boys and Girls Club or a daycare center, they could still do their school,” Governing Board member Christa Rizzi said.

“Correct, that’s our hope. And ... the hotspots are mobile, so if they were to go to grandma or grandpa’s house or to a neighbor, they could take that hotspot with them and still have Internet,” Ms. Wallace said.

For more information on the district’s plans, go to ajusd.org.