Here are the details for Gilbert Public Schools' reopening plan

Gilbert Public Schools
Gilbert Public Schools has three options for families as it reopens schools. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Gilbert Public Schools has three options for families as it reopens schools. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Gilbert Public Schools plans to return for fall with three options for parents: in person, online or a “flex” model that includes both forms.

Though school will start online and in-person opportunities cannot, by Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order June 29, return before Aug. 17, families will be able to choose among the options in July.

The plan, approved by the governing board, was the result of the work of a task force that looked at various aspects of school operations. The head of the task force, Barbara Newman, the GPS teaching and learning executive director, presented the details to the governing board June 30.

Here are some of the highlights of the task force’s plan.

In-person learning


Full-time, in-person learning is considered Option A. Under the plan, schools will meet five days a week with social emotional support in place and accommodations and support services provided for students.

The schedule will include elementary school “specials” such as physical education, music and elective classes on the secondary level.

Safety measures put in place include:

  • Desks and tables will face one direction in rows when possible.

  • Classroom visitors must be scheduled.

  • Hand-washing and sanitizing will be conducted multiple times each day.

  • Students will report to classrooms upon arrival at school.

  • Student movement will be controlled throughout campus.

  • Classroom sizes will be carefully leveled to make them appropriately sized.

  • Students will have individual supplies when possible with other items being sanitized as needed.


Parents will be asked to fill out a form with a daily review of symptoms. Stringent requirements will be put in place for students returning from illness.

Auto-generated attendance letters will not be sent out this school year, but attendance will be tracked as required by law.

Staff and parents will receive a notification letter if there is a positive COVID-19 contact.

The district will follow state and local agency guidelines when it comes to face coverings, but staff working in classrooms dedicated to medically fragile students will receive personal protective equipment.

On the elementary school level, students will eat in the cafeteria but with reduced capacity. A limited number of students will be allowed on the playground.

Secondary schools will have a staggered release schedule for passing periods and directed hallway flow patterns.

The gymnasiums, auditoriums, lecture halls and libraries at schools will have reduced usage, and assemblies will be done virtually.

As with elementary schools, there will be reduced cafeteria seating, but other locations will be open for lunch.

Athletics will have a phased-in approach, as has already begun, and performing arts will operate under a modified practice schedule. Field trips will be determined on a month-by-month basis.

Flex learning

The flex learning model, which is Option B, has in-person and online instruction included in it, utilizing the same classroom teacher.

Elementary classes at each school are based on enrollment needs for kindergarten through sixth grade. The decreased number of students in the classroom allows for more physical distancing in this model.

Under the flex model, elementary students will have two days of in-person teacher support each week from 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. The district will seek to have family members have the same day schedule if they choose this option.

Special area classes are optional and offered through GPS’ Global Academy online.

Lunch at school will be optional, and parents must provide their own transportation for their children.

On the secondary level, in-person and online instruction will be held five days a week. Students can request partial days with the school they are enrolled at. Any portion of their schedule can be in person with the remainder online from home or campus. However, Advanced Placement and community college dual-enrollment classes will be taken on the school campus.

On-campus courses must be scheduled consecutively, based on availability. The campus will offer assistance in scheduling GPS Global Academy classes.

The district will provide a device for online learning.

Students must provide their own transportation if arriving or departing campus at times other than before or after school.

Online learning

Option C, online learning, will be conducted through the GPS Global Academy, which has been the district’s online school and is now available for K-12. It uses highly qualified Gilbert Public Schools teachers. The accredited, standards-based curriculum the district has adopted is also NCAA approved.

Students using this option will have access to full-time teachers five days a week, including office hours and open lab hours.

Social-emotional supports will still be put in place for students. It also will have support and services for English language learners and students with special needs.

Students will have an assigned mentor for weekly goal-setting and additional support, and a district counselor will be assigned to secondary students for academic counseling support.

The district will provide devices.

Under the Global Academy, all students will have core classes and choose from electives that include PE, technology, Spanish and art for elementary school students; PE, reading, study skills, Spanish, coding and art for middle school students; and PE, languages, technology, art and social science for high school students.

Gifted education is available for elementary school students and honors classes for middle and high school students.

Whole child support

The district will utilize mental health support staff on all levels to assess and prioritize student needs. It also plans to re-establish connections and re-engage disconnected students through outreach and family engagement and collaboration with campus staff.

The behavioral health team member will work on rapidly identifying needs and access to support systems and resources. It will also collaborate with the community behavioral health agencies for referrals. The goal is to have a continuum of care to address transition from the previous school year.

Academics

The district considers continuity of learning to be critical, Newman said, so all teachers will have a virtual platform, and there will be a plan for any potential disruption.

The curriculum will vary based on the option the family chooses, but each will have an online component.

Some students did not engage in the fourth quarter, Newman said, so priority standards will be used to get students to progress. Students will need a demonstrated proficiency in what they missed.

Some staff will be reassigned as they cannot come back to a brick-and-mortar campus, but GPS Global Academy will be in need of instructors, Newman said

Ducey’s order states schools will need benchmarks on progress in the first six weeks of school, and Newman said the district is ready for this.

Employees

Newman said the district recognizes some personnel are more susceptible to illness if exposed, and they will be assigned to appropriate areas.

Guidelines have been established and forms created to report identified COVID-19 cases with employees. They will be trained for identification of symptoms and notified of contact with someone testing positive.

When returning to work, protective equipment distribution, including N-95 face coverings, will be done as appropriate.

Hand sanitizer will be available in every classroom. Cleaning solutions will be provided for daily spot cleaning of high-touchpoint surfaces.

Deep sanitizing will be done every two days at a minimum.

An employee assistance program will be available for all staff members returning to work. The district will have regular check-ins with vulnerable staff members.

District employees will be trained for the use of the online platform and supplemental resources. Instructional technology support will be available for virtual learning.

Teachers will be trained not just in the platform but in best instructional strategies, while parents will get platform access, resource navigation and strategies for student support.

Internet accessibility will be available through Cox Connect to Compete or an alternative hot spot for areas without service.

Transportation

New bus routes are being created to minimize time spent on buses. The buses will be cleaned after morning runs and at the end of the day.

Face coverings will be provided to students who do not have one. A window or two on buses will be open for air flow.

Custodial operations

Cleaning materials and processes are being standardized throughout the district. High-use areas, such as bathrooms and multipurpose rooms, will be cleaned more frequently.

The district has purchased handheld and backpack sprayers that will be used for cleaning schools and bus fleets with sanitizing liquid.

Hand sanitizers will be mounted and available through the buildings.

In-classroom surface cleaning material will be available throughout the day. The district has added an additional five-member custodial work team.

Financial impacts

The district will continually monitor state and federal funding and student reporting guidance. It plans to apply for a federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act grant.

The district will monitor warehouse supplies of protective equipment and cleaning materials.

It also plans to facilitate school and department budget additions and various supplies as needed.

The district will conduct legislative advocacy for the needed funding and accountability.

Under Ducey’s executive order last week, schools meeting certain conditions are guaranteed funding at least meeting 98% of the prior year’s average daily membership—roughly enrollment. In that scenario, Gilbert should receive at least $257.2 million in maintenance and operations capacity, about $1.5 million less than the current projected budget for fiscal year 2020-21.

Communication

The district has plans for frequent ongoing communication with students, families and employees. Key messages will be done at the district level for consistency. The district’s goal is to keep stakeholders as up to date as possible with detailed information, Newman said.

The district’s website and internal employee hub will be key providers of information that are “one source of truth,” according to district officials. However, information will be accessible in a wide range of media.

Continuity-of-operations plan

Newman said the district has learned it is important to have a continuity-of-operations plan in case of another disruption like in the spring.

The district has gathered it all in one place, covering essential staff and functions, cross training, available learning resources for potential closures, the need for social-emotional learning support, the need for meals at home and a communication strategy.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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