TorriAnderson

MUSD Board Member Torri Anderson stares at her computer screen during a passionate board meeting Jan. 7 to discuss the reopening of in-person schooling.

MARICOPA — In a special meeting Thursday, the Maricopa Unified School District board voted to postpone in-person classes until Feb. 1 due to the current COVID-19 numbers.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman reported the district had been notified of dozens of new COVID-19 cases between Monday and Thursday and said she was still receiving the emails up until the meeting.

According to Lopeman’s data, 35 new cases were reported to MUSD during the period. Of those, 15 in-person students and 14 in-person staff members were infected as well as four distance students and two distance staff.

“I would emphasize that those 15 cases could create 15 separate quarantines,” Lopeman said. “We don’t know the overlap between the in-person students and the in-person staff, those positive cases, so we could be looking at 29 separate quarantines. Certainly there could be some overlap.”

Multiple families wrote into the school board meeting during the call to the public reporting their families were currently ill with COVID, or had recently lost family members.

“I admit that I didn’t know much about COVID. Like much of our city government at that time, I didn’t want to wear a mask, I just didn’t get what all the bother was about,” wrote one parent. “Then our family was affected. I lost my brother to COVID, that alone was shocking to the kids. … I wish this on no person. Seeing this firsthand has traumatized me, and to think that I could have prevented some of this by doing simple preventable things earlier haunts me.”

Lopeman suggested the board set a tentative start date for in-person learning on Jan. 19, with time to discuss again at the regularly scheduled board meeting Wednesday.

The board deliberated over issues of student and staff safety, consistency, attendance and budget issues in relation to whether a district-wide move to online learning was suitable.

Board members Ben Owens and Torri Anderson were in favor of remaining consistent and stressed the importance of a stable learning environment for students. However, AnnaMarie Knorr felt that the school district was at odds with how the rest of the community is treating the pandemic.

“The city is still holding their community events, the restaurants are open, the bars are open, UltraStar is open, you can play flag football, you can go to the skatepark … you can do anything you want to do that was available pre-COVID, except go to school,” Knorr said. “The message we are sending to our kids is, ‘school is not important.’”

Owens moved to extend online learning until Feb.1, and board members Jim Jordan and Anderson joined him in voting yes while Knorr voted no.

Schools will remain online for instruction until Feb. 1. On-site support services like meals, learning labs, medical and mental health services, English language learner support, tutoring and services for children in foster care will remain in place until otherwise specified by the district.

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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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