Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board

Some parents and students gathered last week outside district headquarters during the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board meeting to urge an immediate reopening of campuses.

Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board will hold a special meeting Tuesday to hear a plan for reopening campuses as soon as possible.  

Previously the board voted to wait until Sept. 22 to look at when students and teachers could safely return to the classroom during the pandemic. GPS students began school remotely Aug. 5. 

“It is our belief based on the examination on some of the data that things look much better in our district and in the East Valley than it may throughout the entire county,” board member Reed Carr said at last week’s work study session.

 “We are also anticipating based on preliminary data available from the department of health that the data is trending in the right direction,” he said

The state on Aug. 6 released three benchmarks it said districts should watch for two straight weeks before starting in-person learning.

 Those benchmarks are: fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 individuals or a two-week decline in cases; less than 7 percent of area cases testing positive for COVID-19; and hospital visits due to COVID-like symptoms are below 10 percent of all patient visits.

Carr said county also is expected to release a dashboard with ZIP codes for COVID-19 cases drilled down to individual school district boundaries. 

GPS’ boundaries cover 10 ZIP codes. 

Carr noted some of the case numbers for the ZIP codes could be misleading as they would include long-term care facilities and hospitals.

So far, the district was meeting one of the benchmarks – a decline in cases, Carr said.

He said Superintendent Shane McCord and his staff have been instructed to examine daily all available data “and anticipate where that data is heading so we can move toward the beginning of school in a safe, proper way as soon as possible.”

He said the plan McCord is tasked with presenting Tuesday would include a phased-start or other measures they deem possible in order to ensure safety.

Board members emphasized that whatever plan is presented for reopening, it will be one that ensures the safety of students and faculty.

“Hopefully, we will come to you with a comprehensive plan,” McCord said. “We will bring to you our very best effort.”

McCord during the work study reviewed the county data and where the county stands in meeting the three benchmarks.

Reed asked if the board agrees and the indicators show the ability to safely return to class, how soon could that happen.

 “I’d like to say the next day but that’s not how it works,” McCord said. “I would say at least it’ll take a week but we will have more definitive information for you on Tuesday.”

Board member Jill Humpherys said in looking at the metrics and data, it should be done so that when the district opens up schools, they can continue to stay open without having to shutdown again because of an increase in cases.

 Board member Sheila Uggetti said the board will meet regularly to ensure the data is up to date and she added that everyone wants a return to school but in a safe manner.

“We want to ensure our community that we are united as a board,” Carr said. “Our goal is to return to school as soon as possible. We recognize there are many stakeholders that feel differently as to what safe looks like. 

“We are trying diligently to balance those needs,” he added. “We care about students; we care about our staff. We know that they want to be in the classroom now. We know many are concern about their health for various reasons.”