Cloth masks, smaller class sizes and daily health screenings are some of the state’s recommendations for schools as they develop plans for reopening in the fall.
State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman last Monday released a blueprint that anticipates four different scenarios for the fall – all students are attending school; some students are in the classroom and others are doing remote learning; all students are doing distance learning; and all students intermittently doing in-person and distance learning.
The 35-page “Roadmap for Reopening Schools” is based on input from over 100 statewide stakeholders, including students, school districts, teachers and public health officials.
“This is not a one-size-fits all,” Hoffman said. “This is meant to be flexible and adaptable to help our school leaders think through all different types of scenarios and work within their own communities to create plans that are best for their unique needs.”
The report’s recommendations include using physical barriers like sneeze guards, space-seating students on buses, staggering student arrival and drop-off times and closing communal areas like cafeterias and playgrounds unless they can be cleaned and disinfected between staggered uses.
When it’s not possible to ensure individuals are 6 feet apart, the report advised the use of cloth masks, hand washing and sanitization.
And, gone might be field trips, student assemblies and spirit nights to be replaced by virtual activities under the recommendations. Sporting events also are discouraged, instead schools should consider other options to allow for sports activities in ways that minimizes the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the report said.
The report also recommends holding virtual group events and meetings and limiting nonessential visitors and volunteers from campuses.
Gilbert Public Schools spokeswoman Dawn Antestenis said the report’s recommendations – as well as parent and staff surveys underway now – will be considered by a district task force that is coming up with a plan for the fall.
“All of these will be considered and a plan will be presented to the Governing Board,” she said. “Our goal continues to be a healthy and safe start to the next school year for our students, staff, and families.”
The task force is expected to bring the plan to the board at the end of June.
Maeve Lloyd, a Highland Junior High School student, who serves on Hoffman’s Student Advisory Council, also gave input on the report but could not be reached for comment.
Higley Unified School District issued a letter to parents stating it was planning to reopen schools on July 27. Last school, year students went back to school on July 22.
“We will plan to open with increased safety precautions such as daily health screening protocols, physical distancing where possible, and more frequent and improved cleaning and sanitation processes,” Superintendent Mike Thomason’s letter said.
“In addition, we will encourage students and employees to wear masks; however, we respect that is a personal choice and face masks will not be required,” he said.
Thomason said the district also plans to offer remote learning for families not comfortable sending their children back to into the classroom.
Community reactions to the ADE’s guidelines ran the gamut.
“They can kiss my ass,” commented one person on a social media platform. “Washing hands and good hygiene is safe. Sneeze guard, masks, temp checks, etc…is fear.”
One woman said the report “makes zero sense.”
“They are going to make school even less desirable for many and for what?” she wrote. “These kids are still going to congregate in large groups off campus and hang out at each others homes and other social interactions and sporting events if they return.”
Another commented that she was all for sending her children back to school but was worried about parents who knowingly send their kids to school sick because they have to be at work.
And, another woman said she will do whatever it takes to send her children to school safely.
“I’m sure many will criticize but they have gotten used to the new normal or home and in stores,” she wrote. “They’ll get used to it at all too. They need the routine, structure, their friends and teachers!”
Having safety precautions in place is no guarantee against contracting the coronavirus.
Last week, it was reported an infant at Little Sunshine’s Playhouse and Preschool on Val Vista Drive came down with the virus despite safeguards in place at the facility such as daily temperature checks and masks.
“There’s no evidence this originated at the school,” said Brett Roubal, president of Little Shunshine’s Enterprises. He said there have been no other cases at that Gilbert location since.
The school sent out notifications to parents and alerted Maricopa County Health Department.
Also, in Israel it was reported that two weeks after fully reopening schools there, a COVID19 outbreak infecting over 200 students and teachers forced their closure last week.
Editor’s note: Howard Fischer from Capitol Media Services contributed to the story.