How long will children be learning from a distance?
Tough questions and enlightening feedback came at Maricopa Unified School District administrators in a virtual meeting with parents Tuesday. More than 30 parents asked questions, some of which were answered verbally. The others received written responses from staff.
RETURNING TO CAMPUS
Some parents expressed appreciation for the district’s efforts while others described specific difficulties they and their children are having with distance learning. Parents asked when kids could return to “brick-and-mortar” learning, when they might return to “a normal school experience” and how long students would be able to continue learning online.
Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said that is on everyone’s mind.
“I just don’t know,” she said. “As this virus progresses or doesn’t progress, we will respond. Safety and consistency are priorities. We just have to respond to the data.”
She said the “new normal” of masks, social distancing and disinfectant will be in place for the foreseeable future.
The district has an aspirational date of Sept. 8 to return to in-person instruction if the county meets state-set benchmarks of COVID-19 mitigation. At a special meeting planned for Thursday at 6:30 p.m., the governing board will consider Lopeman’s alternative plan for a staggered return.
Last week, Lopeman proposed bringing back kindergarten through fifth grade on Sept. 14 but waiting until Oct. 13 to bring sixth through 12th grade back to campus. The board may decide on a return date at Thursday’s meeting after looking at the most recent benchmark data.
One parent took issue with the concept.
“Why would older kids go back a month after the younger kids? Their GPAs actually matter,” she said. “They are older and more in control of their health. They understand health rules. They are in control of their bodies. You are saying a 5 year old can handle school more than a high schooler?”
Lopeman said the older students are more independent. Teachers and parents have more of a challenge keeping young students like kindergarteners engaged online all day, she said. Lopeman also said during the meeting that managing the transfer of data takes more time for the older grades.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Whenever students come back to campus, the district has a protocol plan if COVID cycles back through the community. If students become infected after returning to school grounds, they will be isolated and sent home. After contact tracing and disinfecting, the school could have three options – no change, quarantine or closure.
There were also concerns about available supplies of personal protective equipment. Business Director Jacob Harmon said he is confident there are enough supplies for several weeks and the district has several additional orders in.
In a written response to a related question, Human Resources Director Tom Beckett explained the approach to preparing buildings and buses for students to return.
“We requested from the Board 12-15 new part-time custodians, and we are still recruiting for those openings,” he said. “Transportation has an operating protocol that includes seating charts, extra cleaning, social distancing when possible.”
One parent noted the families had been asked if they wanted to continue online or return to class for the rest of the semester. “What if they go back and it’s not a good fit? Are there any other options?” she asked.
Lopeman said parent and teachers need to collaborate to make sure the choice made is a good fit.
Parents also described frustrations with some teachers not having small-group meetings, inconsistencies from teacher to teacher in how information was conveyed to students, teachers “skipping classes” and the high school faculty’s seeming lack of tutoring and communication. Principals were listening to the virtual meeting and were expected to act on the comments.
When asked about the status of students who had been retained and are trying to get back on track, Lopeman said the district is “assessing where all students are academically.”
A question about outreach to gifted students besides advanced placement, honors and dual enrollment, staff conceded that was an issue that needs to be addressed.
Even if in-person classes do not begin Sept. 8, the district is changing in-person learning labs from half days to full days on that date. Asked why the in-person labs were OK but not in-person classes, Lopeman explained the labs were part of an executive order from the governor’s office. She said they were for students “struggling mightily” with distance learning and those who need support.
She said in implementing the “mandated” program, the district came to recognize it as a “great resource.”
Lopeman said she was impressed with the sophistication of the feedback that came in.
Those who have more feedback, questions and ideas about safely returning to in-person classes can email ReopenInfo@musd20.org.