"This year certainly is not ending the way we expected when the school year began," Casteel wrote in the email shared with Community Impact Newspaper. "We all find ourselves in a situation where there are more questions than answers and opinions vary. While we do not have all the answers, I can assure you that welcoming our students back for a new year in a safe environment is our top priority."
Casteel said the task force is comprised of about 30 people and they will be surveying staff and parents for input.
"Ideally, we plan to resume school normally, in person with all the safety and extraordinary sanitizing precautions possible," Casteel wrote. "However, we know each student and family has different needs, so we are also developing models that will allow flexibility for online learning in order for you to make the best decision for your child(ren). In addition, the task force is outlining contingency plans should we need to adjust quickly based upon the most up-to-date information from health professionals."
The Arizona Superintendent of Schools Kathy Hoffman has said the Arizona Department of Education will give guidance on reopening schools by the end of May.
"Rest assured, we are preparing to provide your student with the quality educational experience in 2020-2021 that you have come to expect," Casteel said.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control on reopening schools
On May 19, the Centers for Disease Control released updated guidance for reopening schools.
"As some communities in the United States open K-12 schools, CDC offers the following considerations for ways in which schools can help protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19," reads the CDC webpage on school guidance. "Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community."
The CDC highlighted the three risk levels associated with opening schools.
"The more people a student or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread," read the webpage.
According to the CDC, the risk of COVID-19 spread increases in school settings as follows:
- Lowest risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities and events.
- More risk: Small, in-person classes, activities and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
- Highest risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.
The CDC guidance includes guidance on everything from shared materials to masks to field trips.
When it comes to masks, the CDC recommends teaching and reinforcing the use of cloth face coverings for children over the age of 2, but notes that it may be challenging for students to wear all-day in school. The CDC recommends that face covering are worn by staff and students, particularly older students, as feasible and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.
The CDC recommends that frequently touched surfaces are cleaned and disinfected at least daily or between use as much as possible. The use of shared objects should be limited when possible or cleaned between use.
Desks should be at least 6 feet apart when feasible, according to the CDC, and all desks should face the same direction. Distance should also be created on school buses when possible.
The CDC recommends closing communal use shared spaces—like dining hall and playgrounds—if possible. If not, to stagger use and disinfect between use. Physical barriers, like plastic flexible screens, should be added between bathroom sinks when they are not 6 feet apart.
Students should be encouraged to bring their own meals when possible, or schools should serve individually-plated meals in classrooms instead of a communal cafeteria.
The entire list of CDC guidance can be found here.