School districts across Arizona adapt as coronavirus cases surge

Nov 10, 2020, 4:45 AM | Updated: 10:54 am

PHOENIX — As coronavirus metrics continue to rise, school districts across Arizona are changing their plans for in-person learning.

Some are going back to fully online instruction while others are postponing in-person classes.

The Phoenix Elementary School District originally planned to reopen schools for in-person classes in November, but the district’s marketing communications director Linda Jefferies said they weren’t able to do that.

“The COVID numbers are on the rise, and it’s definitely impacting the Phoenix Elementary School District,” Jeffries told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“Because of that, the governing board has opted not to return to in-person instruction until at least January.”

The district now tentatively plans to welcome students back on campus on Jan. 14.

Jeffries said the governing board is keeping a close watch on the benchmarks the Arizona Department of Health Services recommends for safe reopening of schools. She said the district also has its own metrics that are “a little more rigorous” to determine when students can return to school.

As of last week, the AZDHS COVID-19 dashboard showed schools in Maricopa County are recommended to offer a hybrid learning model, which is a blend of virtual and on-campus instruction.

The dashboard takes three metrics into account. It shows Maricopa County is in the minimal range for the COVID-like illness hospital visit metric and in the low end of the hybrid range for percent positivity of diagnostic testing.

However, for the first time since the dashboard was unveiled, Maricopa County moved into the substantial spread range for COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

School districts across the Valley are making decisions based on AZDHS’s COVID-19 dashboard for schools.

Last week, Agua Fria Union High School District’s governing board voted to have schools return to online learning starting Monday. The district will continue with online learning through the end of the second quarter on Dec. 18.

In a letter to parents on Friday, district Superintendent Dennis Runyan said the decision was made “due to the resurgence of positive COVID-19 cases in our community.”

Similarly, the Madison Elementary School District’s governing board planned to meet Tuesday to decide whether to return to online learning give the rising COVID-19 numbers.

Other school districts have taken the same path as Phoenix Elementary School District and will continue offering online learning.

The Roosevelt School District, for example, said it will remain in a virtual learning setting until winter break, saying “the safety, health and well-being of our students, staff and community continues to remain our highest priority.”

Jeffries said the Phoenix Elementary School District and its governing board “sympathize” with parents who want their children back in school now instead of waiting until January.

“We want our parents to know that the health and safety of our students and staff and their well-being is our first priority,” Jeffries said.

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School districts across Arizona adapt as coronavirus cases surge