Board members expressed a unified desire to open campuses for in-person instruction as soon as possible, even as board members struggled with messaging.
"I want it to be normal, but right now COVID[-19] is in charge of the world," board member Sheila Uggetti said.
The board did not rule out an Aug. 17 return to school for in-person instruction, but even the strongest proponents for a quick return admitted it was highly unlikely given the state’s coronavirus data, among the worst in the country.
Instead, the metrics, under development from the state, will define when it is safe to reopen, and then the district will use a one-week transition period to prepare for in-person instruction.
If the metrics still have not been met by the board’s Sept. 22 meeting, it will re-evaluate how to move forward.
The board quickly unified around opening as soon as possible when the metrics allow but was divided on the wording of a motion and whether to include a date.
In the end, it approved one that read: “Gilbert Public Schools will begin in-person classes upon meeting the Arizona Department of Health Services guidelines. At such time, the board will provide teachers, administrators and parents a one-week notice to plan and implement their reopening strategy. Beginning August 5 and until the guidelines are met, courses will be held online. The board will re-evaluate September 22 if the criteria has not been previously met.”
The resolution passed on a 3-2 vote with board members Lori Wood and Reed Carr dissenting, though Carr offered the compromise resolution, saying he did not like the messaging behind a date.
The inclusion of a date, even one only loosely tied to reopening for in-person instruction, was the main sticking point for the board.
A resolution offered by Wood, which did not include a date and called for reopening as soon as the metrics indicated it was safe, failed on a 3-2 vote on the lack of a date. Carr and Wood were the lone votes for it.
Wood and Carr said a date, particularly a later date, would give people reason to leave the district.
Board members Sheila Uggetti and Jill Humphreys said a date would help people to plan. Humphreys said she preferred something later, perhaps tied to the end of first quarter. Such a date would decrease the chance of the date being pushed further into the future and discouraging people.
Uggetti said a date could always be moved forward if the district cleared the metrics.
In the end, the Sept. 22 re-evaluation date tied to a scheduled board meeting was the board’s compromise.
Even so, Carr said July 29 that he spent an hour after the meeting and more time in the morning clarifying for families that the district is not waiting until Sept. 22 to return to in-person instruction.
Before the board considered its decision, it heard from 21 people during the public comment period of the meeting, including teachers and parents, with 13 expressing a desire to delay starting in-person instruction until it was safe, seven wanting an immediate return when allowed and one expressing trust in the board.
In considering when to start, the board also examined factors such as liability and the health of the district’s insurance trust fund if many employees fell ill with COVID-19.
The board also examined the governor’s executive order in detail. When it came to the governor’s requirement that districts and charter schools have free on-site learning opportunities and support services for students who need a place to go during the day, Superintendent Shane McCord said the district would have to define who those students are, citing examples of students in different special education programs or students who have two working parents.
In related actions, the board approved a policy revision that would allow professional staff to get up to 80 hours of additional sick time through voluntary transfers from the medical sick leave bank if the employee exhausts their time because of COVID-19.
Additionally, it approved a resolution authorizing the superintendent to carry out what is needed for the district to meet the governor’s executive order.
In an unrelated matter, the board approved a contract with Dignity Health to provide athletic trainer services for district schools. The contract will cost the district $530,000 over its five years. Dignity will contribute 60% of the trainers’ salaries and benefits for a total of $850,000.