PHOENIX — Arizona’s top school official released guidelines on Monday for reopening the state’s K-12 schools that includes detailed suggestions on how districts can decide whether to start traditional classes after summer break or switch to partly or fully digital learning models.
But the document released by Supt. of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman leaves it up to districts to make those choices, saying school boards should rely on guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the coronavirus pandemic.
The 36-page document came just days after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said he was allowing schools to reopen in August. Ducey promised that Hoffman would provide detailed guidelines for schools as they prepare to open again to more than 1 million Arizona public schoolchildren.
Hoffman said she worked with state health department officials and educators to come up with the “Roadmap for Reopening Schools.”
“It provides a series of recommendations for how schools can approach the 2020-2021 school year and offers adaptable considerations to meet each community’s unique needs,” Hoffman wrote. “Given the fluidity of the public health situation, this will be a living document that will be updated based on the most current information.”
She laid out best practices in limiting the spread of the virus, including recommendations on cleaning, limiting large groups, possibly wearing masks and many other details.
School districts weren’t waiting, with most already deep into the planning process for reopening schools that shut down in March.
“It’s a lengthy series of documents still being reviewed and processed by the school superintendents and districts’ working group task force,” said a statement provided by
Lance Ross, the public information officer for Colorado River Schools, which is composed of Colorado River Union High School and Bullhead City Elementary School districts.
Both of the Colorado River Schools’ districts are slated to begin the 2020-2021 school year in late July.
These task forces have school principals, administrators and others who have been considering how to reopen their campuses. Members will go through the state guidelines and determine what would work best for their schools.
Even with the detailed report, there remain two significant questions for educators across the state. If the first of the questions is answered, the follow-up could be a big problem for local school districts.
“The great unknown continues to be any pending action by the Arizona Legislature during possible special sessions over the summer, and whether these new guidelines will have financial assistance or wind up as unfunded mandates,” Ross said.
The Alhambra Elementary School District in west Phoenix was among the first to close. Supt. Mark Yslas announced on March 12 that students wouldn’t return from spring break as planned even though there had been only nine reported coronavirus cases at that point. The governor didn’t order a statewide closure until March 15.
As a school leader responsible for 14 schools and about 12,000 students, Yslas said he didn’t have a plan to deal with the virus.
“I said ‘I’m not closing because I know what to do,’ ” Yslas said Friday. “ ‘I’m closing because as a leader, I don’t know how to keep my kids and my families and staff healthy.’ ”
In the past several weeks, the district has been planning for reopening. It has gone to a fall school calendar that will allow options for scaling back in-person classes, and is considering limiting the number of students on buses. The district even is planning to teach parents how to handle their students after school. That involves telling them to have their child shower and change clothes immediately after coming home from school, before interacting with other family members.
“Because we have a sense of responsibility to also keep our families as safe as possible,” he said.
At the Kyrene School District, which covers portions of south Phoenix and parts of Tempe, Chandler, Guadalupe and the Gila River Indian Reservation, Supt. Jan Vesely is planning a full reopening with distance learning options for students whose parents aren’t comfortable with sending them back to school.
“We are absolutely ready to reopen,” Vesely said Monday.
She said the new state guidelines track closely with those from the CDC and the district is close to finalizing a detailed reopening plan. The district will focus on health and safety and on providing choices for parents.
“There will be remote and online learning as well as in-person options,” she said.