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ELOY — With the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in the community, the Eloy Elementary School District has decided to push back in-person learning at schools until January.

After a Governing Board meeting last month, it seemed likely that the district would not allow students to return to the classroom until January. But in the weeks after the Sept. 8 meeting, the district released a plan to safely reopen the doors at all three of its campuses, with a scheduled start date of Oct. 12.

Last week as positive COVID-19 cases began to increase in Pinal County, the decision was made to push back the start date to Oct. 26.

Superintendent Ruby James told PinalCentral that the Eloy area had been looking good and had consistently been in the green for the recommended benchmarks to allow hybrid learning.

“We were good and that’s why we were like let’s bring them back on October 12,” she said. “Then the week before last we got a red and we hit stop. So we had to put the brakes on. It takes us one week to come in to make the changes, call the parents, get the packet and go to virtual. We have one week to flip it all once we get the indicators from the county.”

She added that the constant change of the data has been an emotional roller coaster for the community and at some point, a decision needs to be made about how long the ride is going to continue.

“We’re doing a great job with the packets,” James said. “The parents have been excellent, the virtual lessons that we have, the parents are making sure that their child is on and our teachers are doing our due diligence for our community and we’re doing well. So because we’re doing well, we don’t want to bring students back for in-person and then have to stop. We want a little more longevity, we cannot continue stopping and going and building up hope and taking it away.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, James suggested to board members that the best idea would be to stick with the original plan of aiming to reopen the schools in January.

James told board members that she had been in contact with health officials from Pinal County and had been meeting regularly with a leadership team that includes staff from all three Eloy Elementary School campuses on trying to figure out what the best case scenario is for the district.

According to James, county health officials said that a lot of schools have gone into the yellow for the recommended benchmarks that allow in-person schooling. If the trend continues upward, more schools will go into the red, in which case they will have to return to distance learning.

“We did meet as a leadership group to discuss what our next steps were, being that we had green and then we went to red and then we came back to green,” James said. “We had a start date and we were all excited, parents were excited and the students were excited. The consensus was we get through the flu season remaining virtual because we’re really good at it now and we’re servicing the students. Test results are showing that we are making some great strides with the students.”

Eloy Elementary District nurse Diane Wright told PinalCentral that the Eloy community has been hit hard with positive cases of COVID-19 and that she has been in communication with many who say there are various residual effects.

James added that the district has had a few positive cases and scares. The recommendation from the leadership team is not to return to in-person schooling until after the second quarter, which would be Jan. 4.

Board member Frank Acuna II favored the recommendation as did board President Paul Rodriguez.

“I think this is only going to get worse, not better,” Acuna said. “We’ve been real lucky here the last couple of weeks but we’ve also had a red there. I’m not willing to take a chance with anybody’s life.”

Rodriguez added that the district should wait until January and to just continue moving forward with educating students at home.

While students have not returned to in-person learning, the junior varsity began volleyball and football practice this week. If the district falls into the red on the benchmarks again, then a decision will be made about continuing with athletic activities.

“I will continue to update you so that you know exactly what I’m seeing when I get it from the county,” James told the board. “We’re not happy about the situation, we do want our babies back. The main thing is we miss them but we also want to make sure that we maintain safety and keeping our mitigation plan and making sure that when we do come back together that we are in a safe environment.”

After the meeting, James said that she is aware that with delaying the start of in-person schooling there is the possibility of losing students to other schools.

“I know if I continue to follow what the health department, the benchmarks, what the indicators are telling me, I know I’m doing the right thing for my school, my staff and my students,” she said. “If I do lose some students to other districts that are opening up, at this time it is not safe for Eloy Elementary to fully open its doors for in-person learning. Yeah, we are looking at the hybrid and we will look at it again in January.”

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Maria Vasquez is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.

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