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The Chandler Unified School District has provided a roadmap for how its campuses might operate in a post-pandemic environment when classes resume on July 22.   

Arizona’s third largest school district has not yet officially decided whether its 42 campuses will reopen again for the fall semester, but the plan released last week offers a glimpse into what students might expect if Chandler Unified allows for in-person instruction. 

Some highlights include:

•Gyms, cafeterias and other large buildings on the district’s campuses would be rearranged to reduce proximity between pupils. 

•Students would be instructed to walk directly to their classrooms and not congregate in hallways or outdoor areas. 

•School assemblies would likely be pre-recorded and broadcast virtually. The presence of parents and other visitors on campus would be minimized. 

•Buses would be wiped down and sanitized on a regular basis. 

•Teachers and students would have the option to wear face masks but only staff that regularly interacts with the public would be required to wear them.  

•Plexiglas shields are expected to be installed in school offices and CUSD has already ordered 700 cases of hand sanitizer and 2,800 dispensers to be stationed throughout every campus. 

•Some elective courses – like choir and band – might have to be discontinued due to an inability to maintain safe distances between students. Singing and wind instruments also have been identified by experts “super spreaders” of COVID-19.

Assistant Superintendent Craig Gilbert said the district’s COVID-19 task force is still reviewing how electives can be safely taught during the upcoming school year and final decisions have not been made yet. 

The details listed in the district’s reopening plan are not permanent, he added, and are subject to change in the coming weeks.  

“We are continuing to have conversations as we move forward,” Gilbert said. 

Regardless of the plans CUSD is making to protect the health and wellness of its students, some parents have already expressed a wish to not send their children back to school next month. 

According to a recent survey of 19,100 families in the district, 8 percent said they don’t intend to have their child physically return to school. Another 27 percent said they were undecided and the remaining 65 percent plan to send their children back.  

Several parents indicated they probably wouldn’t send their child back if CUSD schools were to restrict or eliminate extracurricular activities. 

When asked if cutting sports and club activities would impact the parent’s choice, 52 percent of the survey’s respondents said they were “less likely” to have their child return.

The reopening plan calls for recess activities that can be done independently – like an obstacle course. After-school clubs would be restricted to only those that allow for social distancing between students under the district’s plan.

Parents appeared to favor implementing protocols that called for regularly monitoring students and staff for symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents were “more likely” to send their child back to school if CUSD conducted daily temperature checks on its employees. 

The survey further showed 34 percent of respondents prefer having their child learn through a hybrid model of instruction, which would allow for both virtual and in-person teaching. 

Chandler Unified’s reopening plan offers a blueprint for how it could potentially offer hybrid model that had students attending school in-person a couple days per week.  

Schools would operate on a rotational schedule; one group of students attends school on Monday and Thursday, then another group attends Tuesday and Friday. 

Some district leaders worry how this hybrid schedule could inadvertently create extra work for Chandler’s teachers. 

Lara Bruner, a member of the CUSD Governing Board and a teacher at Mountain Pointe High School, pointed out that teachers would have a limited number of hours during the week to juggle both classroom and online assignments.  

“When will teachers have time to create online curriculum in addition to preparing for in-person instruction?” Bruner asked at last week’s board meeting. 

Sara Wyffels, a Spanish teacher at Chandler High School, is also concerned about the workload of her colleagues. 

Teachers will need time to thoroughly prepare for a format that asks them provide instruction in two different modes, she said. 

“There’s a concern of possibly teachers getting overloaded with a combination of virtual learning and in-person learning,” Wyffels said. “I think that could burn a lot of people out.” 

Wyffels was part of a committee that helped the state Department of Education draft its guidelines for reopening Arizona’s schools. 

The state guidelines were intentionally designed to allow individual districts to determine what works best for their community, she said. Whatever decision Chandler Unified decides to make, Wyffels hopes it will take into account the input given by the district’s teachers.  

When Chandler was forced to close its schools in March, Wyffels said it was stressful trying to quickly transfer curriculum over to an online format. 

“It was exhausting trying to keep up,” she added. “We basically had one week to sort of get everybody on board. It was really hard.” 

One issue the district has with its hybrid-teaching scenario involves uncertainty surrounding the state’s funding formula. 

Craig Gilbert said Arizona’s current rules don’t account for a split-model of education. If students were to learn remotely online a couple days per week, he said, it’s not clear whether the state will pay CUSD for teaching them on those days. 

“In order to get funding from the state, students have to be attending the brick-and-mortar school or an approved online (program) in order for the district to be funded,” Gilbert added. 

Morgan Dick, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Education, said school districts shouldn’t see their funding levels change in a hybrid format if they already have an online program approved by the state. 

The Arizona Board of Education must review and approve a district’s online program before it can be offered to students. CUSD is authorized to provide online programming for grades 5-12 and has recently applied to expand its program for all grade levels. 

Any funding formula changes would be contingent upon legislative action, Dick added, and the Department of Education is advocating for the state to be flexible in the upcoming the school year with it how disperses funding.

That could be one of the issues the Legislature might address if the governor calls a special session to focus only on virus-related matters. So far, the governor has not indicated if and when he might call a session. The Legislature ended its session early because of the pandemic.

The district’s reopening plan further offers some guidance on how schools might function entirely online. 

Schools would develop a “master schedule” to block out when teachers are expected to teach, plan, grade, and hold office hours. 

The CUSD Counseling and Services would offer live video calls with students and put together a crisis-response team that can respond virtually to emergencies.  

Superintendent Camille Casteel said she hopes Chandler Unified will be able to invite students back on campus soon and provide them some sense of normalcy again. 

She highlighted how more than 60 percent of CUSD families have reported concerns they have about the social-emotional health of their children. 

That’s why it’s important to offer some face-to-face interaction for the district’s students, the superintendent said, because CUSD wants them to feel secure about the world again after so much recent turmoil.