COVID-19 SPIKE FORCES AREA SCHOOLS TO SHUT DOWN ONCE AGAIN
The change becomes effective on Monday, Nov. 30, in TUHSD and Kyrene, and Monday, Nov. 23, in Tempe Elementary.
“We remain mindful of our responsibility to keep our entire community safe – students to teachers to staff and their respective families. Please know that we do not take this decision lightly and that we are continuing to focus on delivering quality instruction in the virtual environment,” TUHSD Superintendent Dr. Kevin J. Mendivil wrote in a letter to parents and families on Nov. 20.
The move comes at a time when Tempe Elementary and Kyrene are searching for new superintendents.
TEMPE UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
Tempe Union, which includes Corona del Sol and Marcos de Niza, said that it has been carefully monitoring public-health metrics made available by Maricopa County and Arizona Department of Health Services and that those metrics guided its decision to go virtual.
Factors that TUHSD took into consideration include:
— TUHSD students in quarantine: While the positive-case count has remained low, the district has seen an increase in reports in the last two weeks and, as of Nov. 20, nearly 600 students and staff have been isolated or quarantined due to possible exposure on campus.
— Substitute-teacher shortage: A growing number of staff are experiencing COVID-like symptoms due to flu, colds or other viruses. Staff members are required to remain home if there are any symptoms. TUHSD is having extreme difficulty securing substitute teachers for those classrooms. Moving to contingency reduces the risk of teachers being out sick.
— Off-campus behaviors: The district has seen multiple cases of students sent to school with symptoms or while awaiting COVID test results. These incidents put staff and other students at risk in addition to causing preventable school quarantines.
— Projection models: Current models predict exponential growth of COVID-19 cases over the next several weeks, projecting as many as 250,000 positive daily U.S. cases with 3,000 to 5,000 deaths a day. Higher spread translates into higher positive COVID cases on campuses, higher counts of quarantine and greater risk for the TUHSD community.
Metrics will continue to determine how long virtual learning-only will continue in the Tempe Union district. Students will be brought back to campus when the metrics indicate it is safe to do so again, according to the district.
Students who were in hybrid mode also will shift to virtual instruction. Additional information on bell schedules and other specifics will be circulated in the coming week.
TUHSD said that onsite support services will be made available for special needs or high-risk students and any others who fall into priority categories, in compliance with the original Executive Order from Gov. Doug Ducey.
TUHSD emphasized that resources are online to assist families during this transition, including social emotional wellness resources and that support teams at the schools are available for additional information and resources.
KYRENE SCHOOL DISTRICT
Dr. Jan Vesely, who is retiring as superintendent of the Kyrene district on Dec. 31, wrote in a letter to district parents that “we have worked so hard to keep our schools open for learning this year. I also thank you for your patience while we examined new COVID-19 case data to make informed decisions, based in science, for the health and safety of our entire community. After much consideration, and in consultation with the Governing Board, Kyrene School District has made the difficult decision to transition all students to online learning immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday.”
The district includes the majority of the K-8 schools in South Tempe and West Chandler.
Online learning will begin Monday, Nov. 30, with independent activities assigned by teachers. Live online instruction will begin Tuesday, Dec. 1, for all students who are not in Flex and KDA live online instruction. Those modes will continue uninterrupted.
The exception is that Kyrene de los Niños families and staff will not return to school in person on Monday, Nov. 23. They will continue online learning.
“I recognize the value and importance of students being in school and take the responsibility of changing instructional environments very seriously,” Vesley wrote.
She said that she was guided by the same metrics as Mendivil.
The shift impacts the district in several other ways:
— Limited Onsite Services (Kyrene SOS Plan): This will be available for students with exceptional circumstances. Executive Order 2020-51 requires every district to offer free, targeted onsite services during school hours for qualified students, including students with disabilities, English-language learners, children in foster care and children experiencing homelessness. Schools will not be able to accommodate the same number of students as in August. Schools will be working to identify students for onsite services, based on the above criteria, and will directly reach out to qualified families.
— Technology Distribution: Kyrene is preparing to provide students with the technology and materials needed for online learning. Each student will need an individual computer or Chromebook. The district is prepared to support all students who don’t have a suitable device at home. Schools will send specific instructions for distribution of laptops and curriculum materials. Contact your principal if you do not have internet access. Internet providers have offered free or discounted rates during the pandemic.
— Q3 Learning Environment Selection: Kyrene was scheduled to ask families to make a selection in November for students’ Quarter 3 learning environment, which begins in January. Pending Kyrene’s return to in-person learning, there will be an opportunity to transition to a different learning environment at a later date.
— Before/After School Programs: Beginning Dec. 1, Kids Club and After Hours programming will be available only on select campuses, serving students by region: Brisas/Aprende, Colina, Estrella/Akimel A-al and Waggoner. Those already registered for Kids Club or After Hours for 2020-21 must submit a new registration for this regional program.
— Athletics: While schools are in online-only learning, there may be sports practices but there will be no games or meets.
— Preschool Impact: Kyrene will continue to offer in-person preschool programming, as part of Arizona’s direction to provide child-care for preschool-age children. Should enrollment in a program decline significantly at a school and force it to temporarily close, the district will find a program on a different campus for children. Integrated preschool, for children with disabilities and typically developing children, will continue uninterrupted online and in-person.
— Meal service: Kyrene will continue to offer free meal service. Students receiving onsite services will receive free meals at school. All other students will receive free meals through Kyrene’s curbside pickup program. Pickup days, times and other details about free meals can be found at www.kyrene.org/foodservices.
TEMPE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Superintendent Christine Busch, who is retiring at the end of the school year, was the first in the area to return her district to virtual learning. She thanked parents and families “for your continued patience, flexibility, and commitment to keeping your children safe and healthy. Unfortunately, COVID metrics are much worse than last week, and we are now in the SUBSTANTIAL RISK category, requiring us to return to 100 percent virtual learning for all students beginning Monday, Nov. 23, and will continue until Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.”
Onsite support will be provided at all Tempe Elementary schools during virtual learning. Students who were previously in onsite support may remain in the program during all-virtual learning periods.
Students who were not previously in onsite support but need its programming from Monday, Nov. 23, through Dec. 18, should contact the child’s school immediately.
All schools will be closed for previously scheduled Thanksgiving and winter breaks.
Computers were sent home with students on Nov. 20 to prepare for online-only classes.
Students who do not have an internet connection at home must contact the child’s school immediately.
For more information: tempeschools.org/returntoschool.