Friday, September 25, 2020

Return to the Classroom: Your Tucson-Area School Districts Roll Out Plans for Hybrid Learning

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2020 at 1:43 PM

Thousands of students across Pima County will soon return to their classrooms as local public school districts solidify their plans for new hybrid models of instruction.

According to the county health department’s COVID-19 Progress Report, five of the nine health criteria are making “progress” and three have been officially “met.” The progress report tracks local disease data, healthcare capacity and public health capacity.

As COVID-19 data trends downward from its spike in June and July, many families have expressed interest in sending their children back to school. As a precaution, most districts are preparing to offer a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction.

However, the Marana Unified School District is planning to offer families a fully in-person traditional learning option beginning Monday, Oct. 19.

“This is a critical topic, it’s a challenging topic, it’s a topic that’s proven to be emotional and divisive at times, but I think this community has an opportunity to come out the other end together and stronger together as we work through this process,” said Superintendent Dan Streeter during the Sept. 17 special board meeting.

MUSD received about 12,000 responses to a parent survey about learning model preferences. Streeter reported about 70 percent of families want to return to in-person classroom instruction and 30 percent want to remain in remote learning.

These numbers allow the district to begin planning logistically about class sizes, physical distancing in schools and other mitigation strategies.

Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Dumler told the board that the district is layering as many mitigation strategies as possible in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Their mitigation plans require all students and employees to wear face masks, adhere to physical distancing instructions, practice hand hygiene, establish elevated cleaning and disinfecting protocols and establish transportation and lunchtime accommodations. All schools have had their HVAC systems updated and improved to meet heightened standards for air circulation. Plexiglass dividers have been installed in certain areas where germs can be spread easily.

“We are putting into place as many different strategies we think are feasible to be able to minimize exposure and reduce risk to employees and students,” Dumler said.

The district is working with employees with ADA disabilities that prevent them from returning to school sites. For other staff without ADA disabilities who have concerns about returning to work because they are at high risk for COVID-19 or have a household member that is high-risk, Dumler said they will be accommodated as much as possible based on a tiered system.

She reported that about 100 teachers indicated they would request ADA accommodations, which is 12 percent of the district’s teaching staff. Dumler said it is likely they will not be able to accommodate everyone, but the assignments will look different between elementary, middle and high schools.

The district will send out “commitment surveys” to district families to select which mode of instruction they want for their child or children. MUSD has a hybrid learning model in place as contingency if the risk of COVID-19 begins to increase.

The Tucson Unified School District is tentatively planning for a hybrid model of instruction to begin Monday, Oct. 19, as long as COVID-19 trends in Pima County continue to decline.

At their Sept. 22 meeting, Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo told board members that by Oct. 6 they will make a final decision on whether to reopen school sites for hybrid learning.

Similar to the Amphitheater and Sunnyside districts, TUSD’s hybrid model consists of an alternating schedule with two cohorts. On days when students are learning remotely, they will be doing asynchronous learning with the curriculum of their peers in the classroom.

The Amphitheater Public Schools district plans to begin their hybrid instruction Monday, Oct. 12. According to their website, this model will allow students to attend smaller classes in person for two days per week and participate in their remote learning three days per week.

The Amphi district has established heightened public health protocols similar to MUSD in preparation for students coming back to campus. They are requiring all students and staff stay home if they experience any symptoms of illness. Face masks are required at all times, but students can request an exemption by submitting a request to the School Health Office. All individuals must maintain a physical distance of at least six feet whenever possible, wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds each time and avoid touching their faces.

“Please be assured that we will continue to work directly with local and state health officials to determine the correct actions to take to protect our community,” district officials said in a letter to families.

The Sunnyside Unified School District sent a letter to district families on Sept. 9 announcing that they would reopen for hybrid learning on Monday, Oct. 19.

In the letter, Superintendent Steve Holmes acknowledged the differences in data findings between the state and county health departments. He said the state Department of Health Services has indicated Pima County is safe to open up their schools. But the county health department maintains that there is still a “moderate risk.”

Given the progress that the county has made, Holmes said SUSD will move forward with providing both a hybrid learning model and the remote model to all families.

Sunnyside’s hybrid model will also have two cohorts of students who come to campus on alternating schedules. Holmes said the district will do its best to keep students in the same household together when they are scheduling cohorts.

Since many teachers are expected to shift toward providing in-person instruction, it is likely that students remaining in remote learning will be assigned to a different teacher or teachers than the person they are currently working with.

In a case where there are small numbers of families who choose the remote learning option, students will be enrolled in a self-paced learning environment, according to the letter.

Sunnyside’s mitigation plan looks very similar to what other districts are doing, and layers multiple types of public health protocols to ensure low risk of COVID-19 transmission on campus.

The Catalina Foothills School District will be the last to reopen for hybrid learning with a start date of Monday, Oct. 26.

Superintendent Mary Kamerzell said this was an “aspirational date” and could change depending on local public health data.

“We are hopeful that the Pima County health metrics will continue to move in the right direction,” Kamerzell said in a letter to district families. “In addition to our in-person option, we will continue to offer a 100% remote learning option for students.”

On Sept. 18, the district sent out a preliminary survey to see how parents are feeling about returning to school sites. On Oct. 8, they expect to send out a “binding survey” that will have parents commit to an in-person or remote learning option for their child or children.

With the exception of Sentinel Peak High School, Emily Meschter Early Learning Center and other self-contained programs, the Flowing Wells Unified School District will begin offering hybrid learning Thursday, Oct. 22.

According to a letter from Superintendent David Baker, Flowing Wells’ parent survey resulted in about 60 percent of families showing interest in a hybrid learning model and 40 percent of families interested in staying with remote learning.

While there was some variance in the survey between grade levels and schools, Baker said this survey shows a significant interest in both types of models.

“As a result, the Flowing Wells District is committed to developing both options,” Baker said. “This is a challenging and potentially disruptive process at every school, particularly at the six elementary schools.”

For elementary students, those enrolled in hybrid learning will be assigned in-person instruction at the same time every day, either morning or afternoon. The reduced number of students scheduled for each time slot will allow for physical distance to be maintained in the classroom and on campus, according to the district. Students will participate in assignments remotely from home during the other half of the day.

For middle and high school students, those enrolled in hybrid learning will attend in-person classes one day each week, and participate in remote, synchronous learning for four days each week.

Transportation and school breakfast and lunch will be available with accommodations for public health safety.

The district asks that parents evaluate their children for symptoms of illness before sending them to school and should notify their principal or attendance clerk of any positive COVID-19 diagnosis in their family. Families will be notified if their child has had direct or indirect exposure to a COVID-19 positive person.

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