After a semester and part of a quarter, the school year is over for physical campuses, and many questions remain.
State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman and Gov. Doug Ducey announced the extended closure of all public schools through the remainder of the school year in an effort to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus. All school curricular activities were shut down as well. No banquets, no award presentations, no prom night.
“This decision was made in the best interest of the health of our students, teachers and their families to do our part in flattening the curve of the spread of COVID-19,” Hoffman said. “This was not an easy decision, nor one that we have taken lightly.”
School staff will have full pay through the end of the school closures.
“We know our students and staff look forward to the excitement that the end of the school year brings, and this is not the outcome we wanted,” said Tracey Lopeman, superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District. “However, the health and safety of our students and staff members is our first priority.”
As the announcement was being made, MUSD was beginning to prepare teachers for the distance-learning program it put in place this week for students to learn remotely. Originally it was to be activated through April 10 but is now the education program for district schools through the end of the year.
Lopeman said the ramifications of closing schools for the rest of the semester are complex. Prom had already been canceled, and graduating seniors do not yet know what will happen for graduation. Sports season and championships were also canceled, frustrating the final high school seasons of many.
Hoffman said the state board will meet Tuesday to discuss graduation requirements, A-F grades and remote-learning documentation.
“I think it’s a safe decision,” said Amy Sundeen, assistant principal at Leading Edge Academy. “To put 800 kids in one location definitely increases the risk of them catching the coronavirus. We are taking every step possible to ensure that our kids can receive the best education from now through the end of the year.”
Leading Edge Principal Mat Reese said his K-8 charter school handed out 200 laptop computers last week. There was a 50% response from parents on Friday alone, with more showing up afterward.
“We are still looking at how we will do grades and promotions,” Reese said. “I am proud that our staff have really stepped up their game. Students are getting excellent classroom instruction through Google Classroom.”
Sequoia Pathway started handing out supplies last week in a curbside distribution. MUSD schools also began handing out meals to their students, with each student 18 and younger receiving breakfast and lunch. Legacy Traditional School had three distribution tables set up Monday morning for families to pick up lesson plans, school supplies and paper products such as, yes, toilet paper.
Teacher Grant Hanks, who teaches at both Maricopa High School and Central Arizona College, called it “a strange few weeks” as everyone gets up to speed.
“For MUSD, we are using Google Classrooms with our students. Luckily I was using this from the start of the school year,” Hanks said. “I post copies of the PowerPoints notes and assignments so that students are aware of what they need to do. During the latest textbook adoption, we also decided on a Pearson, which gives us access to online materials as well.”
Hanks uses MyLab Math in pre-calculus, letting high school students see how math classes will be in college.
“So I plan to continue to use Google Classroom to share notes and links to videos so that students can learn the material,” he said. “They will do their assignments on Pearson’s Mylab Math. All high school teachers will be offering virtual office hours for students that would like some help. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like at this time. For the students that can’t access the Internet, we are providing them hard copies of the assignments.”
Hanks’ wife teaches third grade at Sequoia Pathway, and he has helped her set up her distance-learning class, despite the fact technology is not her superpower.
“She now feels better using Google Classroom, can use Zoom, and Microsoft Teams,” he said. “So it’s been a successful couple of weeks. It’s been a learning experience for both of us.”
Each school is counting on parents to hold students accountable for their lesson plans, whether online or in hardcopy. But the schools are also waiting for answers to questions to come from the state education department.
“We are committed to communicating with staff and families regularly as information becomes available,” Lopeman said.
Multimedia journalist Kyle Norby contributed to this report.