Gilbert Public Schools board approves Aug. 5 online start with eventual three-option plan

Gilbert Public Schools
Gilbert Public Schools plans to start the school year with online instruction Aug. 5 but will allow for in-person instruction and a "flex" model as soon as Aug. 17. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools plans to start the school year with online instruction Aug. 5 but will allow for in-person instruction and a "flex" model as soon as Aug. 17. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools plans to return to school online Aug. 5 but will shift to families having three options for learning once in-person school is allowed to resume.

The district’s governing board approved a task force’s three-option plan on a 5-0 vote at a special meeting June 30 after a detailed presentation from Barbara Newman, the district’s executive director for teaching and learning. The learning module options are for in-person with additional safety, online or a “flex” model that includes both forms.

The board also approved the Aug. 5 start date with the caveat that it could change as the district gathers more information.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s June 29 executive order pushed in-person school start dates back to Aug. 17, and that could be pushed even further back if the state’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to remain so high.

Superintendent Shane McCord said that while it was not ideal, he thought it best that the district start school as originally scheduled on Aug. 5, even if it means instruction can only done online until in-person instruction is allowed to start.

McCord, board member Jill Humpherys and board President Charles Santa Cruz expressed concerns about changing the instructional calendar and delaying paying district employees if contracts have to be altered because of calendar changes. They also worried that if school does not start Aug. 5, families may be inclined to go someplace where school has started.

Member Reed Carr said he preferred an Aug. 17 opening so that families could start school under their preferred option rather than doing two weeks of online and then moving into their preferred educational mode.

However, Carr acknowledged that might mean adding future instructional days to the calendar, including possibly canceling fall break. But Carr said that if parents were not on board with a change or if it result in a disruption in employee pay, then the school year start could not be delayed.

Humpherys said such a large change in the calendar would necessitate a survey of district parents, and Santa Cruz said many families likely already have made plans for fall break.

In response, Carr asked to see if the district could get a survey of parents and also see if it can get further guidance from the state on the instructional calendar and being able to pay employees on time rather than pushing their pay schedule back to align with a later start date.

Carr proposed that a special meeting could perhaps be held in a week to allow the board to make a more informed decision.

However, when it came time for a vote on Humpherys’ motion for an Aug. 5 online start, Carr voted with the unanimous majority. Carr explained he did so that he could preserve the ability to ask for reconsideration.

Carr asked district staff to see if it could collect the information he asked for and, depending on what is found out, he said he could ask for a special meeting next week to reconsider the start date.

Newman said the three-option plan offers choices for families to decide what is best for students academically and best for their health and wellness.

It also provides supports to students who experience a disruption in learning due to sickness or future closures and is flexible so as to be modified if circumstances change.

Parents will be asked to choose from among the models during July.

Simultaneously, teachers and staff will receive training and staff will be reassigned to meet family demand among the options.

In an other action, the board approved the hiring of Joyce Meyer as executive director for talent management-human relations. Meyer is currently the principal at Mesquite High School.
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.