Schools evaluating state benchmarks for returning to in-person instruction

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Arizona schools now have state benchmarks for deciding when to come back to in-person instruction, with the Health Services Department and Governor’s Office releasing guidelines Thursday. Pinal County has hit just one of the three goals, and the schools are concentrating on making online learning succeed.

In the case of Maricopa Unified School District, which is a week into the new distance-learning procedures, in-person instruction is at least a month away.

“District administration is analyzing the information to plan for specific application of the benchmarks in MUSD,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman, Ed.D., stated in her weekly “Snapshot” to families and staff.

Arizona Department of Health Services recommended schools look for the following county-level circumstances before deciding to reopen campuses:

  • Cases: a two-week decline in weekly average cases OR two weeks below 100 cases per 100,000 population
  • Diagnostic test percent positivity: two weeks with positivity below 7%
  • COVID-like-illness Syndromic Surveillance: two weeks with less than 10% of hospital visits due to COVID-like illness

Pinal County has met the first benchmark. But its current rate of positivity is over 10%, and it has just one week of less than 10% hospital visits due to coronavirus.

“Our focus is ensuring that Arizona students and teachers have a safe and successful academic year, even though it may look different because of the ongoing pandemic,” Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday. “We know the critical services that in-person instruction provides for our children. These benchmarks use public health data guided by recommendations from county, state, and federal experts to inform our schools on implementing a safe return to the classroom.”

According to the state instruction for returning to in-person instruction, plans should encompass four scenarios:

  • Traditional – All students in physical buildings
  • Hybrid – Some students in physical buildings and some students distance learning
  • Virtual – All students distance learning with onsite support services
  • Intermittent – Intermittent distance learning based on emergency closures as defined by state and local health departments

Many of the state recommendations for back-in-class plans have already been incorporated into MUSD’s future procedures.

MUSD has set a class return date of Sept. 8. For now, campuses are reporting a fairly smooth process and solving problems as they arise. There are a few families still needing to pick up their devices, and educators are tackling issues with synchronous teaching as they come.

“It is different. At times it is hard, but we also know that hard is not impossible,” said Maricopa Elementary Principal Jennifer Robinson, Ed.D. “Everyone has been flexible, patient and relied on help from each other, as we become more familiar with the online platforms and expectations.”