The Chandler USD governing board voted Sept. 2 to begin a staggered start for elementary students and to keep junior high and high school students attending school virtually until the start of the second quarter as long as benchmarks from the county health department continue to be met.

The board voted 3-2 with Lindsay Love and Lara Bruner dissenting during the four-hour meeting.

In the staggered model for elementary schools, students in pre-K through second grade would start school in person Sept. 14, and students in self-contained classrooms would also begin Sept. 14. Students in third to sixth grades would start in person Sept. 21. All three groups of students would then continue in person for the second quarter beginning Oct. 13.

Secondary students will continue attending school virtually and will plan to return fully to in-person instruction Oct. 13.

The board rejected the two hybrid models that were proposed for elementary and secondary students.

The change comes after the board voted Aug. 5 to maintain remote learning through the first quarter.

"There are lots of families struggling," board President Barb Mozdzen said. "The data has changed so much; we have to adapt to that. When you find something that isn't working, you have to make adjustments. You have to change."

Staggered elementary reopening

The board members who voted for reopening all said closing achievement gaps for students was a priority. David Evans, who proposed the plan the board adopted, said it was important to close those gaps for young students and get young students learning in an environment conducive to their success.

With the staggered start, 350 classrooms for preschool, kindergarten, and first and second grades are enrolled, according to the district. There are 117 classrooms of specialized self-contained students planned with enrollments per class to be between six and 11 students. Both groups begin Sept. 14 in person if parents selected the in-person option prior to the start of the school year.

Frank Narducci, the CUSD assistant superintendent of elementary education, explained to the board that virtual learning is not the best practice for teaching and learning for primary grades and specialized self-contained classrooms.

"Achievement gaps begin at these lower grade levels, and if the gaps aren't closed, it will make it more difficult and require extensive interventions in the future," Narducci said.

Students will maintain social distancing and face coverings as well, according to the district.

There will be 590 classrooms for third through sixth grades, according to the district. Social distancing and face coverings will be required of this student group as well. The district is anticipating 20 classes with 23-27 students broken down into smaller groups.

All three student groups would continue in person Oct. 13 at the start of the second quarter.

Secondary reopening planned for Oct. 13

The board voted to keep secondary students virtual until the start of the second quarter. On Oct. 13, all students not enrolled in Chandler Online Academy would return to the campuses.

The district presentation to the board noted social distancing would be difficult at the secondary level, but Craig Gilbert, the CUSD assistant superintendent of secondary education, said efforts to social distance will be made when possible.

All students will be required to wear face coverings upon their return.

The district is also planning for controlled student movement throughout the campus by assigning directional flow in halls, at lunch and in high-traffic areas. The students' desks will be all facing one direction when feasible, as well, according to the district.

Grab-and-go lunches will be available with the cafeteria remaining open all day. Students will report directly to their classroom when they get to campus, according to the district, and parent drop-off and pickup areas will have the expectation that drivers remain in cars at all times.