COOLIDGE — The school year for students of the Coolidge Unified School District will start later than normal following a decision made by the Governing Board last week, and the governor on Monday.
Members of the CUSD Governing Board met for a virtual special meeting on Wednesday, live streamed by the district on the video hosting platform Vimeo, and approved a revised calendar for the 2020-21 school year.
The newly approved school year calendar pushes back the start date for students to Aug. 10. The first day of school was originally scheduled for July 27. However, due to the fast spread of COVID-19 in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that schools across the state won’t have in-person classes until Aug. 17.
“As you know there’s been a huge spike in cases,” Superintendent Charie Wallace told board members as part of her update during the June 24 meeting. “We keep thinking that if we can delay this a little bit (the start of school), maybe we can minimize the risk for the health and safety of our students and for teachers.”
Though school may be starting later for students, no changes were made to the reporting dates for teachers and staff.
At the regularly scheduled governing board meeting in June, CUSD administration indicated that it was seriously examining the later start date for students to “front load” professional development days for teachers and staff.
In a letter sent out to parents Thursday, the district said that the 12 additional days before the start of school will be used to train faculty and staff on health and safety protocols along with platforms for curriculum delivery.
New teachers will start on July 14, while returning teachers and bus drivers will begin on July 20. Classified staff will return to the district on July 23.
While the district still exceeds the number of instruction hours required by the Arizona Department of Education even with the delayed start, Wallace indicated that the shift has resulted in some changes to the schedule as the schools will only take one week off for fall break as opposed to two.
No intercession will be held for that quarter. However, winter and spring breaks will remain at two weeks.
CUSD is offering three different educational models upon the reopen of schools. Students will have the ability to chose an in-person schooling model that would follow social distancing guidelines, a combination option where they would attend school two days a week and participate in remote learning two days a week, or a completely online learning experience through the Coolidge Virtual Academy.
But social distancing may prove to be a challenge if the number of enrolled in-person students is higher than anticipated.
The district will be taking many precautions, including loading buses from back to front, reducing the number of student per seat to two and asking teachers to remove non-essential furniture from their classrooms.
However, if in-person attendance is high, social distancing will be difficult to maintain, Wallace said.
“Depending on how many kids come back for in-person (instruction) it may enhance or make it easier for social distancing because to be honest with you we cannot social distance on buses,” she said. “We can’t in the classroom either.”
As Arizona continues to see a surge in coronavirus cases across the state, school districts are also faced with preparing for the worst.
“We’ve got to anticipate school closures,” Wallace said. “We’re hoping for the very best, and we’re prepared to open, but we have to plan for the very worst.”
Should school closures go into effect in the 2020-21 school year, CUSD plans to allow for continued education and a seamless transition to a remote learning platform across the district.
In the event of school closures, teachers would still be expected to teach new material rather than reviewing curriculum, Wallace said. She cited the need for teachers to be trained better across a uniform virtual learning platform or method as one of the key reasons behind the need for the early professional development days.
If the district is required to move to a remote learning model during the school year, all teachers will be required to use the Apple iPad app, Schoolwork, to accept work. The hope is that a uniform platform will reduce confusion among parents and students regarding which platforms they need to use and how to use them.
Although online registration has already begun for new students, returning students will begin registration in July. At that time, parents will have the opportunity to select which educational model will best suit their child.
CUSD will use registration numbers to determine if a teacher’s assignment may require adjustment. Wallace noted that if there are more students enrolled in the virtual academy or the hybrid model than there are in-person students, some teachers may be reassigned to be an online tutor.
The preferences of teachers that may be concerned about returning to in-person instruction during the pandemic will be taken into consideration when possible, she said.
The letter issued by the district also outlined that students will not be required to wear masks, except on the bus. However, employees will be required to wear masks.
Though the district stated that daily temperatures checks may be logically challenging in light of the higher temperatures Arizona traditionally sees in the summer and fall months, students will be asked to complete a symptom check list at the start of each school day.
Students who display symptoms will be asked to go to a quarantine room, which will be made available at each school campus, until parents are able to pick them up. Quarantine rooms will be stocked with supplies such as masks, face shields, gowns and partitions.
Staggered schedules for recess and lunch will be implemented throughout the school day to allow for distancing practices and limit the number of children in the cafeteria or other common areas at any one time.
All assemblies, pep rallies and field trips will continue to be suspended until further notice.