Two Superintendents

Casa Grande Elementary School District Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales and Casa Grande Union High School District Superintendent Steve Bebee chat in 2018.

CASA GRANDE — The Casa Grande Union High School District and Casa Grande Elementary School District are moving forward with their plans to start the school year virtually, after Gov. Doug Ducey announced last week that it would be up to schools and local public health departments to determine when the best date to reopen school buildings would be.

CGUHSD Superintendent Steve Bebee said the district plans to start the year virtually on Aug. 10 for all students. Enrollment started last week and lasts until Friday.

This year, high school parents and students can choose to enroll in the district’s modified in-person learning model or an online-only virtual academy.

Students choosing the modified in-person learning model will start the year in virtual classes. Once it is safe to reopen school buildings, students in each grade level in each high school will be split into two groups, with one group attending class in person Monday, Thursday and every other Wednesday and the other group attending classes in-person Tuesday, Friday and every other Wednesday. When the students aren’t attending class in-person, they’ll be attending class virtually at home.

Students who choose the virtual academy will take all of their classes online. They will be able to participate in after-school activities and sports, once those activities resume.

CGESD Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales said her district is also planning to move forward with its plans to start its school year virtually on Aug. 17.

“Casa Grande is still a bit of a hot spot in the state for new and positive cases,” she said.

The number of cases in the city is starting to plateau but it is doing so at a very high level. The district would like to see the case numbers start and continue a downward trend before considering reopening the schools.

Both Bebee and Gonzales said the date that both districts will reopen for in-person learning will depend on the benchmarks and guidelines that the Arizona Department of Health Services and Pinal County Public Health Department come up with to reopen schools safely.

Bebee and Gonzales said nearly all of the superintendents in the county attend a regular monthly meeting to discuss ideas about the best ways to support their students and staff. Pinal County Public Health officials have been regular attendees at the meetings since the coronavirus pandemic started and have given superintendents regular updates on the situation in the county and the state.

Both Bebee and Gonzales said that Pinal County Public Health officials have said that the department is awaiting further instruction from the Arizona Department of Health Services before it can start on creating guidelines for local schools.

Gonzales said she got the impression that it will be up to ADHS to come up with the metrics, such as the number of positive cases in an area and whether that number is trending up or down, and guidelines that local schools and public health departments will use to determine if it’s safe to reopen schools.

Once those metrics are determined, Gonzales said she expects that the Pinal County Public Health Department and county schools will start working together to create reopening plans.

According to Ducey’s announcement last week, ADHS has until Aug. 7 to come up with those metrics.

Bebee said his staff is already working on a possible plan to present to the CGUHSD Governing Board at its next meeting on Tuesday. He’s hoping that ADHS will have its metrics and guidelines out to county public health departments before that meeting date, otherwise the district will have to hold a special board meeting to approve any changes to the district’s current reopening plans.

Gonzales and Bebee also said both districts appreciate the governor’s offer to make schools that normally offer in-person learning, but are planning to start the year online, whole by offering those schools 100% of the funding they normally would have gotten.

The state usually gives online-only schools 95% of the funding that schools that teach students in-person get. Schools across the state that normally offer in-person learning were concerned that they might lose funding because they were starting the school year online.

Ducey is also offering an extra 5% of funding to schools that start offering on Aug. 17 in-person learning and support services for students who need a place to go during the day because their parents are essential workers or because the student needs specific services.

Gonzales and Bebee said schools across the state are still trying to figure out how to safely provide that in-person learning for students that need a place to go, especially since schools don’t have the metrics to determine when it’s safe to reopen schools, for even small groups of staff and students, from the state yet.