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MARICOPA — Maricopa Unified School District — like those across the state — is gearing up for a new school year, and scrambling to come up with ways to accommodate the variety of staff, parent and student needs in the midst of the global pandemic.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced a $270 million funding package for education an hour before Wednesday’s board meeting, which enabled the board to discuss alternative models to the ones they had previously considered.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman began her presentation on re-opening by stating how quickly things had changed even from their previous meeting just two weeks ago. The data collected from parents, only five days old, would not reflect recent surges in Arizona cases and the alternative models that now have available funding.

“Clearly things are changing every day, and after talking with board members, certainly listening to our community members (and) talking with other superintendents as well, I think we need to think very seriously about this timeline and a modification in light of the health risks,” Lopeman said.

Other board members agreed, and recommended the first day of school be pushed back as much as two weeks from July 23 to Aug. 7. Board member Patti Coutre said that a week could be added or taken away somewhere else in the school year to make up for that. Board member Tori Anderson agreed.

“Delaying it two more weeks would give staff more time to prepare, especially the online piece,” Anderson said. “Now that we know that we have funding for a hybrid model, … I think it would give us more time to perfect that model.”

She also added that, as the board has yet to allow in-person meetings themselves, it would be unfair to send children back to school full-time.

“Until we’re ready, as a board, to have in-person live board meetings, then we shouldn’t be having our kids on campus,” Anderson said. “We should set the example. We should be the guinea pigs and not our students.”

Until Ducey’s allocation of funding, discussion of different models was fairly limited between a fully online model and a traditional “brick and mortar” model.

In the event of the “brick and mortal” model, MUSD would deploy their new prevention protocols, which center around increased cleaning, health screens, social distancing and use of preventative equipment like masks.

The brick and mortar model would allow students from preschool to grade five to operate on a regular schedule with an assigned and dedicated device. They would eat meals in the classroom, attend recess and PE outside and extracurriculars would continue.

Middle and high school students would move in groups and class schedules would be adapted to support the health and safety of students and staff. Students would each receive a dedicated device, and some form of breakfast and lunch would be provided.

In the remote or digital learning model, students kindergarten through 12th grade would attend school online using a district-provided device. They would be given educational and social services online.

Luckily for this district, they already have a nearly 1:1 ratio for student devices, and predict they will be above that ratio in the next few months as they are waiting on their final shipment. Until then, devices would start at a 1:1 ratio for every classroom third through twelfth grade and would be shared in kindergarten through second grade classrooms.

But with additional funding available, MUSD can now turn its attention to another favorable solution: a hybrid of the two models.

The hybrid model would combine digital learning and brick and mortar models in one of two ways. The first would be an A/B model in which two groups of students would attend full-day school on alternating days. When not in the classroom, students would learn online. Another version of the hybrid model could be a morning/afternoon model in which students would attend school in the morning and work online in the afternoon or vice versa.

Board members pointed out that the morning/afternoon model isn’t favorable for working parents.

Similar feelings among the MUSD community were shared in the parent and staff responses to the re-opening questionnaire, as well as the public comments submitted to the board.

With exactly 3,073 parent and 636 staff survey responses, MUSD saw that 58% of parents are sure their student will return in the fall. Another 35% are still unsure, and only about 7% said no.

When asked what organizational model was preferred, 45% of parents would prefer a brick-and-mortar model, while 35% would prefer a hybrid model and just 22% preferred online only. On the other hand, staff preferred the hybrid model at 44%, brick-and-mortar at 35% and online at 21%.

However, Lopeman said that this data could have changed considerably since it was received due to the rise in cases and the change in funding. Another survey was sent out Wednesday to ask which model parents and staff would like the most.

The board was set to announce whether it would delay the start of the school year at a special meeting on Monday, after press time.

For a complete description of the different models and more information on the reopening of MUSD, please visit MUSD20.org.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.

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