Flat lay composition with backpack and school stationery on wooden background

An overwhelming number of parents are planning to send their children back into the classroom when in-person learning is allowed at Gilbert Public Schools. 

The deadline ended last Monday for parents to register their students for one of the district’s three options – online learning, classroom learning or flex, a blend of the two. 

All students will start school Aug. 5 online and it will be up to GPS officials to decide on when to reopen campuses.

“Our goal as a school district is to offer our families flexibility to meet their needs, support to navigate this challenging time, and continued academic excellence,” said district spokeswoman Dawn Antestenis.

 “We are prepared to deliver high-quality education and support for our students, throughout the entire school year, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in and we are extremely grateful to our community for continuing to support us in this mission,” she said.

The state’s fifth largest school district reported the breakdown of registration for the three learning models as 24,918, or 75.6 percent, for in-person on campus; 4,543, or 13.7 percent, for the online Global Academy and 3,539, or 10.7, percent for the flex option.

The number of parents preferring in-classroom instruction is no surprise.

Back in June the district released survey results that showed 66.8 percent of parents favoring a return to campuses for their children while 25.4 percent leaned toward a blended program and 7.8 percent for online instruction. 

Officials said the poll received 22,405 responses. 

Since that survey, the number of COVID-19 cases has escalated in the state and there is a mandatory Maricopa County face mask requirement in place in Gilbert.

To accommodate online learning, the Governing Board expanded the district’s Global Academy to include lower grades and implemented a more rigorous online curriculum that is nothing compared to what students experienced in the spring when Ducey shut down schools.

The district also put in safety protocols for those returning to campuses that include daily health checks, staggered bell schedules, virtual assemblies, installation of hand-sanitizer stations and Plexiglass and changes in the cafeterias.

Aspects of high school sports remain unclear – particularly for spectators.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association has said practices, then games, would begin when campuses are reopened by the state.

But that still leaves the districts in charge of determining how social distancing would be enforced in the bleachers.

In a social media post, parents discussed what they chose for their children.

“For me it was a no-brainer, my son’s going back,” wrote one mother while another posted, “Sending mine back, too. He did summer school online. We almost died. Awful. He’s a senior. He needs to go back.”

Some opted to play it safe and go with online classes or home-schooling.

“Doing online until all this blows over,” a dad posted.” Covid damn near killed me once, not risking it again. I’m working from home anyways so I’ll be home to make sure they are getting their work done.”

One mother wrote she just got an email stating her daughter’s school is going to require students wear masks all day.

“My daughter is 5,” she said. “It’s her first year of school ever. Kindergarten is supposed to be fun and important for her social skills and development. I do not want to send her anywhere where she is going to have to wear a mask all day. So, I’m currently looking for other options but I just don’t know if there are any.”

A woman said she watched her nieces and nephews struggle to finish out their school year online and that it’s “very hard to be a self-learner.”

“The school will take all precaution to protect themselves, their students and their teachers,” she added.

And still, another mother wrestled with her decision to keep her children home.

“At this point in time, as much as I’m dying to have my kids return to school, I think that it’s irresponsible to send them if you have the option to keep them home,” she wrote.

That said, she added she was not looking forward to home-schooling her 4- and 6-year-old children and keeping a 1-year-old entertained while her husband works from home.

“But until we get this virus under control in our state, we’re putting so many people at risk by forcing kids and teachers back into the school system, which frankly is just not prepared/equipped to deal with it,” she said.

Students are encouraged to stay with their selection for at least a quarter before changing options if they find it’s not working for them.

The district also announced it will offer childcare for PreK-8 students during the time schools are closed and students are learning online.