Technically, Maricopa Unified School District is still on spring break.
While many public schools in the state were closed by state mandate to mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19, MUSD students and their families were taking a scheduled two-week holiday. The mandate initially was for March 16-27.
Not until Gov. Doug Ducey and State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman announced the extension of the closure to April 10 did the coronavirus officially impact the district, which has an enrollment of over 6,800 students, but contingency plans were forming.
Wednesday, the governing board has scheduled a special meeting comprised only of a resolution allowing the closing of all schools “until further notice.” That is already the case, and the teaching staff is still coming back to school Monday to put the distance-learning plan into action.
How long that will last is the question.
“We’re obviously paying close attention to what the CDC says, what the state officials say and what the Pinal County health official say,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “We are welcoming over 8,000 people every day. The health and wellness of all 8,000-plus has been our primary goal – before COVID, it was our primary goal.”
She said the resolution gives her the ability to respond quickly without having a special board meeting every day.
Lopeman is no stranger to unexpected school closures. As soon as she came on board as superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District two years ago, the #RedForEd campaign drew teachers out of the classroom to picket at the state Legislature for restoration of funding.
“I showed up in Maricopa, and everybody left,” she said.
Coronavirus is, of course, a very different situation with an indefinite end.
If the state opts to extend school closures beyond April 10, even to beyond the scheduled end of the school year, the distance-learning program will continue.
Lopeman said teachers will be providing resources and online platforms as often as possible to keep students engaged. Starting Monday, they will be learning what that means for their specific courses of study.
The students and teachers also have the weight off their shoulders of school assessments, which have been canceled across the country. Lopeman called it a do-over that is in the best interest of the kids as well as the faculty.
An important part of Wednesday’s resolution reads: “Governing Board finds that it is in the best interest of the District and serves a public purpose to continue to pay its employees for the time period of the school closure in order to maintain order in the community, reduce employee turnover, allow employees to care for the needs of their families, meet its contractual obligations and increase morale for District employees during a time of national crisis.”
March 13, the last day of school before spring break and two days before the state announced school closures, Lopeman addressed the school family through a YouTube video to explain the district’s approach, including cleaning and disinfecting procedures and what possible closures might mean.
Last week, the school announced it would begin distributing free Grab & Go meals to its students at all campuses.