MUSD Governing Board members (from left) Ben Owen, Torri Anderson, Jim Jordan, Patti Coutre and AnnaMarie Knorr have kept to social-distancing protocols during meetings and are trying to work out what that will look like district-wide when classes come back in session. (MUSD)

Maricopa Unified School District has $950,000 from the CARES Act, but it’s seeing the costs ahead as it plans an opening strategy in the wake of COVID-19.

“That looks like a lot of money, but I’m telling you it goes quickly,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said.

Technology alone has gobbled up $100,000 in anticipation of having a hybrid program of in-class studies and online instruction. Though the hybrid model is one nearly every district in the state is considering, even that is not yet set in stone. There are still options for being entirely back on campus or entirely at home.

While Gov. Doug Ducey announced public schools will open in July, the state level plan won’t come down to the district level until Monday.

CARES Act funds are to go to cleaning supplies, extra personnel as needed and instruction. The latter includes technology, internet access, training and related supplies and equipment.

Among ideas being considered at MUSD to have the in-class experience while following social-distance guidelines are staggered start times and schedule cohorts, both of which are meant to limit the number of students in a classroom.

Lopeman told the governing board Wednesday, as an example, Cohort A might attend class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and have online instruction Tuesdays and Thursdays, while Cohort B is in class Tuesdays and Thursdays and has online instruction the other days of the week. Or the cohorts could be based on morning and afternoon sessions.

Those kinds of proposals would redefine class time as measured by state law.

“We need legislative accommodation for how we account for time,” Lopeman said.

If remote learning is incorporated into the schedule for the 2020-21 school year, Lopeman said there is a difference between the distance learning that was used to finish out this school year and the online instruction that MUSD would incorporate in a new model.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr and Board Member Torri Anderson both said all parents they have heard from want the school year to start July 23 as originally planned. Anderson also said she had heard some teachers would not be comfortable coming back that soon. She asked if those teachers could be put in charge of online instruction. She said she would like parents to have a choice if they, too, are not comfortable sending their children back to school.

Board member Patti Coutré warned there would be a “huge gap” between students learning in the classroom and those only learning at home.

Coutré was also worried about the idea of students being required to wear face masks all day if they do come back to campus. She said that would be particularly difficult in younger grades when they are learning to read.

MUSD is drawing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Arizona Department of Education, and federal and state law.

The district’s list of considerations:

health and well-being
● staff preparedness
● transportation
● facility cleanliness
● illness prevention
● academic intervention
● technology
● on-grade-level instruction
● applying guidance
● care and compassion

Even more immediate than a possible July 23 start date, fall sports programs have been up in the air, and athletic directors are putting together plans to allow coaches to have their summer training camps.

Jake Neill, outgoing athletic director for MUSD, has met with other East Valley high school ADs to see what protocols they were considering. Arizona Interscholastic Association on Thursday released its guidelines for a safe return to practice. That includes designating a COVID-19 point of contact.

As outlined by MUSD’s “next steps,” phase one, ostensibly for June 1-14, is only for individual conditioning and skills, with no contact allowed. There would be no more than 15 in a group, no sharing of water or equipment, no locker room use, staggered practice times and a sanitization protocol for all equipment.

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