Photo by Michelle Chance

Casting doubt that the district will be prepared to start school July 23 as tentatively scheduled, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board will look at changing the timeline.

Board members are looking at postponing the first day up to two weeks and will meet in special session to make that decision.

Wednesday, the board looked at the options for launching the 2020-21 year.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman, Ed.D., said the administration and board had been considering delaying the start of the new school year since May. Several aspects to coming back are changing daily based on state and national responses to COVID-19.

“I’m going to buy a T-shirt with an asterisk – ‘Subject to change,’” Lopeman said.

Board member Patti Coutre suggested the district wait until Aug. 5. Board member Torri Anderson suggested Aug. 7.

“I don’t think everyone is emotionally ready to come back right now,” Coutre said.

Anderson agreed.

“Until we have people in our audience, I don’t know why we could have students in our classroom,” she said.

The administration has limited the number of people allowed in the board room during meetings.

Lopeman said a delay would probably mean taking a week out of the fall and spring breaks, and reworking contracts. A delay may also lengthen the amount of time families have to decide their preferred option for coming back to class.

Today, Gov. Doug Ducey announced $270 million more from AZCares for reopening schools. That will help MUSD fully develop its hybrid model. At the moment, models for brick-and-mortar classes and online-only classes mostly have developed framework.

Curriculum Director Wade Watson said the online model would have Advanced Placement and Honors courses available, though possibly not to the same scale.

MUSD had accredited its Virtual Academy for grades six through 12 this year. Wade said the governor’s action allows them to make Virtual Academy Jr., for kindergarten through fifth grade, available as it applies for accreditation.

Technology Integration Specialist Christine Dickinson said the district will be technologically prepared for fully online or hybrid infrastructure.

During the last quarter of the year, only seniors were guaranteed personal devices. This year, the district will exceed 1-to-1 in devices for all students.
Board member Jim Jordan expressed concern for the credit-deficient students who attend Ram Academy. “I know they’re there for a reason. They need a high touch,” he said.

Watson said those students can have a combination of online learning and live teaching.

“Should there be students in Ram Academy who choose to stay home or look at hybrid-type model, we can accommodate that,” Watson said. “It’s just critical, if they are not physically present, that we reach out to them on a daily basis and provide synchronous, video-type instruction so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.”

The district is still deciding if face masks will be mandatory in classrooms. The district is supplying face masks to teachers and may provide face shields.

“Maybe wearing face masks is what allows us to come back at all,” Lopeman said.