Smaller class sizes. Daily temperature checks. No big indoor assemblies. Full cafeterias.
That’s what Dysart Unified School District students should expect when campuses reopen this fall.
And they should also expect the unexpected.
DUSD Superintendent Quinn Kellis unveiled the district’s plan to return to in-person teaching for the district’s Governing Board June 10.
The plan includes a pair of options students can choose and hints at a third option that may be available soon.
Mr. Kellis said the district is trying to balance public safety with a quality learning environment.
“These are all logistics,” Mr. Kellis said. “This is what we do. This is our business is to figure out these solutions, and we don’t shy away from the challenges of working out the logistics of what’s coming in the fall.”
Here’s a look at what will change and be the same when schools open this fall in Surprise:
The first option is to return in class operations on normal this fall. That would mean full days on campus and regular recess and lunch like in the pre-COVID 19 days, except for some big modifications.
Some of the changes on campus will be obvious and obtrusive.
All students, teachers and staff members will be required to have their temperatures checked twice a day.
Students will also be required to wash their hands multiple times each day.
There will no longer be large assemblies indoors.
When students bring school supplies at the beginning of the year, they’ll keep them instead of putting them into the pool of supplies as usual.
The arrangement of furniture in most classrooms will be changed to accommodate as much social distancing as possible. Large groups at tables or desks grouped together in twos or fours will likely not be used for now.
Mr. Kellis said the district is doing the best it can with the limited space it has to work with.
“It’s not possible to comply with the guidelines to have students six feet apart in the classroom,” Mr Kellis said.
When students leave a learning station or enter one, they will clean their own space.
Locker rooms and bathrooms will be undergoing mid-day cleans, instead of just one big clean at night.
Student groups will be capped at three for functions such as tutoring.
Masks won’t be required, but they will be allowed for students and teachers who feel safer using them. The nurses offices will make them available.
For lunches, students will use a full-capacity cafeteria, where social distancing won’t be possible. Food will only be served in boxes.
Mr. Kellis said it’s “not possible to separate students by six feet at lunchtime. But there are great rewards for students socializing at lunchtime.”
Classes will have staggered release times within a couple of minutes to reduce crowds in the hallways.
Mr. Kellis said he knows this arrangement won’t be for everybody.
“There will be some families that are not comfortable with that environment,” he told the board.
DUSD became one of the few Valley districts to become a sanctioned Arizona online provider in 2010. It receives partial state funding for its AOI program, which is called iSchool.
That’s been in service for high school student since 2012 and will now be added to all the other grade levels this fall.
iSchool students either take a mix of online and in-person classes or they’re exclusively online.
It has been especially popular for students who want to make up credits, get ahead in their studies or have an interest in a class that they just couldn’t fit into their daily in-person schedule.
High school students have been required to log in about six hours a day. The district then sends that information to the state to show students are actually using it.
All students are provided a loaned Chromebook. A company called Florida Virtual provides the online curriculum.
The district loaned out 6,000 Chromebooks for students who needed laptops during the remote learning to finish the 2019-2020 school year.
A third option for students may be soon available, where they can choose to go to school part time and do online classes the rest of the day.
The only problem is that arrangement is not factored into the district’s Average Daily Membership (ADM) numbers that determines how the state funds schools.
Right now, the state only recognizes the districts’s full-time in-person and full-time online students. To recognize a mixture of the two would require state lawmakers to intervene.
“If we had half of the students not [fully] attending or not [fully] enrolled in AOI we would only get half of our budget from the state,” Mr. Kellis said. “That’s not sustainable, and we would likely go bankrupt as a district.”
Gov. Doug Ducey, in a meeting with school superintendents across the state June 8, indicated his support for the hybrid model without financial penalties.
“We’re very confident the [Arizona] Legislature would approve that, and Ducey said he supports that,” Mr. Kellis said. “But as of right now, it’s not an option.”
Mr. Kellis said the district is preparing for the potential for families to change their minds after being in one of the plans.
He brought up a scenario of a third-grade level at an elementary school with four classes. He said one class could be a full-time regular classroom with a typical school day. Two of the rooms could be hybrid classes with part in-person, part online. A fourth class could be a full-time at home online.
“I don’t have any idea how many parents are going to choose any of these options,” Mr. Kellis warned the board.
He estimated anywhere from as little as 5% to as much 50% to choose the stay-at-home option.
There’s also the chance a few thousand could choose to go online but after a couple of months a few hundred of them decide they want to return to the classroom.
The district would then have to have a roving teacher ready to be flexible to go from teaching online to in-person.
“The teachers will follow the students,” Mr. Kellis said. “It can go the other way as well.”
The district is also sorting through its staff and teachers to get their feelings on returning to school.
John Croteau, assistant superintendent for human relations, told the board the district is focused on two different groups.
“Those who are vulnerable and those who are worried about coming to work,” he said.
Another option being thrown around is what’s called the A/B model, where blocks of students go to school on opposite days or one half in mornings the other in the evenings or one week one, one week off.
School buses will run on a typical schedule with normal capacity of 55 students, although they’ll likely be less since less students will attend in-person.
“It’s impossible to only allow 20 students on a bus,” Mr. Kellis said.
He said social distancing on the bus lines would mean 5:30 a.m. start times or the district doubling its bus fleet and drivers to meet the demand.
Hugging won’t be banned but students will have to use their own discretion.
“We’re not going to be the ‘No Hug Police,’” Mr. Kellis said.
For school sports, Jim Dean, assistant superintendent for support services, said the district is following the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s guidelines for its restart.
“We’re anticipating a full return in the fall,” Mr. Dean said.
Meetings such as off-campus clubs and PTA meetings may not happen in person for now.
“I think we’re going to be doing things different for a long time,” Mr. Kellis said.
All of the modifications the district is going to have to undertake is coming with a big price tag.
Touchless thermometers average around $100 each and the district estimates it needs 1,200 of them to cover all of its schools. Simple math shows that already will set it back $120,000.
Mr. Kellis said placing hand sanitizers across each school would cost about $21,000 for a 60-day supply.
There will also be new costs for more cleaning supplies, masks, paper as well as Chromebooks and textbooks for everybody.
“All of these do add up,” Mr. Kellis said.
Schools across the state and nation still have an assortment of issues to deal with once campuses reopen nationwide. There’s also certain to be legal cases that arise when students who test positive COVID-19 aren’t allowed to come back to campus.
There’s also the possibility of another coronavirus outbreak in the fall, forcing campuses to close again anyway.
“I think the things that we’re able to try to do to the best of our abilities just to keep children and staff safe we should try,” Board Member Christine Pritchard said.
Editor’s Note: Jason Stone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.