2nd high school - classroom
The first phase of construction on the new high school would include a two-story classroom building. This sketch by Orcutt | Winslow shows a gym entrance and outdoor dining.

The Maricopa Unified School District is evaluating a change in determining who is quarantined when a positive COVID-19 case is reported at one of its schools.

Not yet implemented districtwide, the new protocol resulted from concerns raised by the district governing board in recent weeks about schools – primarily the high school and two middle schools – being unable to stay open for in-person learning because of teacher and staff quarantines.

On Wednesday, it was announced that students at Santa Cruz Elementary would be learning from home the rest of the week, at least, due to staff quarantines.

The board had asked Superintendent Dr. Tracey Lopeman to investigate the effectiveness of less stringent quarantine rules to keep more district employees and students in school. Under the previous protocol, entire classrooms of students were forced to quarantine even if infected individuals did not come within six feet of each and every student or staffer in the classroom.

Lopeman unveiled three guidelines that would likely result in fewer people being quarantined:

  • If vaccinated, a staff member can stay in the classroom if they are not symptomatic.
  • If staff members affirm they have not been within six feet of the infected person.
  • If the principal and teachers spend time identifying individuals coming within six feet of an infected person, then only those individuals will be quarantined.

“If the teacher is staying in the workplace and we’re quarantining a smaller group, then the teacher will begin concurrent teaching that next day, so the quarantine is smaller,” Lopeman said. “We’ve been able to do that a couple times over the past week or so. We’re watching it, we’re collecting the data and staying in touch with our school principals to see what transpired. We’re always very thankful to our parents and staff for communicating openly with us.”

Board members were buoyed by the change.

“I’m encouraged by that little glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel but more importantly with trying to reduce the footprint,” said board member Torri Anderson. “I do think that has helped some of our classrooms and families. I do know it’s a lot more work for staff and I do appreciate you (Lopeman) and staff trying to make it work.”

Board president Ben Owens concurred but added a note of caution.

“Just a reminder to our families that at this point we can’t completely eliminate the possibility of quarantine. We’re not there yet,” he said. “But this is a great first step in getting back to – I’m not going to say normal – but I’m going to say better than we were.”

The board also received an update on the second doses of COVID vaccine for district employees. Lopeman said the “second dose event” will be held March 4, a few days later than originally scheduled. The second dose is to be administered exactly four weeks after the first dose, but the district’s shipment of vaccines was delayed by the winter weather plaguing much of the nation in recent weeks, Lopeman said.

She said Tom Beckett, the district’s director of human resources, conducted a vaccination survey that showed 7% of the district’s faculty and staff have been fully vaccinated, with another 33 percent having received their first dose and awaiting the second. A full third of the district’s 872 employees did not respond to the survey, Lopeman told the board.

“Because we have only heard from two-thirds of our employees, Mr. Beckett is going to do another survey after we get back from spring break so we can get a better understanding of how many people were able to become vaccinated,” she said.

MUSD 2nd high school
The fully-phased construction of MUSD’s second high school includes two two-story classrooms (2 and 12), a 30,000-square-foot CTE building (14) and ballfields. Sketch by Orcutt | Winslow

The board also received an update on construction plans for the district’s second high school, including renderings of the facility planned for Hartman and Farrell roads in the eastern part of the city.

Currently in the design and pre-construction phase, construction of the school will feature considerable earth moving and infrastructure work over the coming summer. Construction will begin in earnest in fall 2021 with a groundbreaking ceremony followed by the primary construction phase. That will be highlighted by a “topping out” ceremony, in which the final beam is laid, likely sometime in December.

In addition, utilities will be installed and paving done this fall along Farrell and Murphy. The school will be built in phases to permit future expansion at a significant cost savings.

The board also approved a 2% raise for all newly hired teachers, a move designed to allow the district to continue to attract top teachers and staff.

“This continues to position us to be very competitive not only with our other Pinal County school districts, but with the southern tier of Maricopa County,” Beckett said. “I know we’re very competitive and these schedules set us up for attracting the best.”

The increase does not affect the 5% raise approved for current faculty and staff at the last board meeting.