Wednesday, January 6, 2021
For Arizona’s students, 2020’s winter break is over, but the alarming spread of COVID-19 remains. As a result, students are returning to school this January predominantly in remote online models.
The Arizona Department of Health Services is recommending all counties in the state commit to virtual learning for students to attend classes online with some onsite support services available.
ADHS makes its recommendation based on three key benchmarks: cases per 100,000 individuals, percent positivity and hospital visits for COVID-like illness. All benchmarks are currently in a state of substantial transmission throughout the state.
In Pima County, ADHS data shows 7,298 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 individuals and an 11.2% positivity rate of the virus as of Jan. 6. The most recent data available on the state health department’s school benchmarks website shows hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses at 13.2% as of Dec. 13.
On Twitter, State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman called on Gov. Doug Ducey to order schools to remain in distanced learning for two weeks and allow school leaders to make reopening decisions after this two-week quarantine.
Given the severity of our state's situation and the virus's trajectory after the holiday period, Gov. @dougducey should order schools to remain in distance learning for a limited two-week period to align with quarantine protocols and current @azdhs benchmark recommendations.— Kathy Hoffman (@Supt_Hoffman) January 2, 2021
The governor’s spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, made clear Ducey will not be issuing the mandatory two-week quarantine for schools.
“Gov. Ducey will not be considering this request or issuing this kind of mandate," Karamargin said. "This is a local decision.”
Of the local public school districts in northwest Tucson, only Catalina Foothills remains open for in-person instruction.
Amphitheater Public Schools
Amphitheater schools returned to classes online only Monday and anticipate staying in a remote model until at least Jan. 19. According to the district’s Communications Director Michelle Valenzuela, Amphi will continue to work with Pima County on its recommendation for schools’ learning models.
Students are expected to participate in remote learning five full days a week and interact with their teachers live at designated times in addition to participating in offline tasks.
Valenzuela says the district has been working with the Amphi Foundation to provide internet service to students in need of it through partnerships with Cox and Comcast. Around 60 families have been provided Wi-Fi, and according to Valenzuela, the district plans to provide more services to families through a partnership with the City of Tucson in the coming weeks.
Teachers are also working with students without internet access to provide them paper packets that contain enough material for the entire academic week. Teachers will be in regular contact with offline students “to provide feedback and support,” according to Amphi’s website.
Catalina Foothills is one of the only local public school districts to remain open for in-person learning after returning from winter break. According to Director of Alumni and Community Relations Julie Farbarik, the decision to remain open was based on the district’s relatively low case counts.
Since Nov. 20, the district has reported 27 new COVID-19 cases throughout its school sites.
“Keeping schools open is important to our students’ social-emotional well-being and their overall academic engagement,” Farbarik wrote in an email. “In their December communication to superintendents, the PCHD made it clear that it supports each school district’s decision based on its local COVID case experience. The numbers at our schools are very low, so we are continuing to offer an in-person learning option.”
Of the district’s seven K-12 schools, two elementary schools began offering five-day in-person instruction starting Jan. 4. The other five offer hybrid learning with two days of in-person learning and three days of remote work. All schools are offering a completely remote option.
Although Catalina Foothills doesn’t have any direct services for students without internet access, students can access its onsite support service for access to Chromebooks, laptops or Wi-Fi, depending on availability.
Flowing Wells Unified School District
Flowing Wells has returned to school remotely, but anticipates reinstating their hybrid option on Jan. 19. However, Superintendent David Baker said this may change in the future. Remote work entails daily scheduled classes via Zoom.
According to Baker, the district provided over 400 hot spots to provide internet to students at home while nearly 100 students come to campus through on-site services to access the internet.
The Emily Meschter Early Learning Center, the district’s preschool, remains open for in-person learning with a remote option. Most students attend four half days a week, Baker said.
“In all reviewed studies and articles, preschool students and pre-schools have very low virus transmission rates and that has proved to be true at our site this school year. Pima County Health has also communicated that preschools and early childhood care facilities across the county have remained opened with very low classroom transmission,” Baker said in an email. “There are also many educational benefits for students to participate in classroom instruction, as compared to virtual learning.”
Marana Unified School District
The Marana district plans on returning to hybrid instruction on Jan. 25 while monitoring public health metrics from the Pima County Health Department, according to Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement Alli Benjamin.
Every student has been issued a Chromebook laptop while remote learning takes place five full days a week with both live teacher-led lessons and independent learning.
According to Benjamin, the district has struggled to locate and purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, but Marana has a limited number of hotspots they’re issuing to families in need. Parents can also apply for students to attend the district’s onsite services for internet access.
Sunnyside Unified School District
Sunnyside schools will be in a remote learning model until Jan. 19. Hybrid learning will commence unless the Pima County Health Department makes the recommendation to stay remote before Jan. 19.
Students are expected to log into their devices to interact with teachers at least three times a day. Kindergarten through first-grade students are provided iPads while second through twelve graders are assigned Chromebooks for participation in remote learning.
Students without internet access are being provided with mobile Wi-Fi devices, according to Sunnyside’s Director of Public Information Marisela Felix. Felix said Sunnyside families can also qualify for a low-cost internet program through Cox.
Tucson Unified School District
Tucson’s largest school district is remaining in a remote-only model as it transitions to 2021. All curriculums can be accessed online through live lessons with teachers and independent work on online educational platforms. Unlike other local districts, TUSD never reopened for in-person instruction during the fall semester.
TUSD has in-person learning spaces where students can access classes online while socially distanced at school sites. According to Leslie Lenhart, TUSD’s director of communications and media relations, there’s no set limit on the number of students attending the learning spaces, but they’re reserved for “at-risk” and “exceptional education” students.
The district doesn’t have an anticipated start date to move to in-person learning.
“The Governing Board will be a part of this decision, but no details are currently available, as we follow the science and the guidelines of PCHD,” Lenhart wrote in an email.
Lenhart said TUSD will provide a free hotspot for internet connection for any family in need of one.