Higley USD to wait on state benchmarks before making reopening decision

The installation of plexiglass in schools' front offices, such as at Bridges Elementary School, is among the mitigation strategies Higley USD is using to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Courtesy Higley USD)
The installation of plexiglass in schools' front offices, such as at Bridges Elementary School, is among the mitigation strategies Higley USD is using to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Courtesy Higley USD)

The installation of plexiglass in schools' front offices, such as at Bridges Elementary School, is among the mitigation strategies Higley USD is using to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Courtesy Higley USD)

The Higley USD governing board did not make a decision at its July 29 meeting on when or how to resume in-person learning until after the state releases its benchmarks for a safe return to campuses.

A decision could come as early as a newly scheduled board meeting at 9 a.m. Aug. 8, a Saturday.

Board member Scott Glover and Vice President Kristina Reese gave voice to each side of the debate about reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Glover wondered if the district, despite all its work, could possibly be ready for in-person instruction by Aug. 17, while Reese argued that those who want to be back in school Aug. 17 need that to have that choice.

Gov. Doug Ducey gave an executive order June 29 that pushed the earliest date schools could hold in-person instruction to Aug. 17, but even then he called the date “aspirational.”

Since then, in a July 23 executive order, Ducey gave school districts the power to decide when to reopen based on health metrics Arizona Department of Health Services is developing for the Arizona Department of Education.

Those metrics, due to be released no later than Aug. 7, are what the board will evaluate before deciding when to return.

The district also is planning to send parents a survey to get an idea of what mode of education they want for each of their children individually, whether it be in person or online.

Associate Superintendent Dawn Foley, who has led the district’s planning on returning to schools, said many parents do not yet know which mode to use and some also want to see the state’s health benchmarks before deciding.

However, Foley said the district needs to at least start getting an idea so it can be prepared to staff classrooms and plan accordingly. She said parents would still be able to change their minds on what mode to use.

The board decided to add the Aug. 8 meeting so it could look at the survey results, due back Aug. 3, and the benchmarks as soon as possible.

The survey also will include if families want to receive additional learning opportunities and support services in person, a requirement of the latest executive order with funding tied to it. Those services are to start Aug. 17 under the order.

Foley cautioned that those services do not mean teacher-led classroom instruction, but more like someone to help facilitate remote learning, including for students in specialty populations.

The board also could consider a face mask policy at the Aug. 8 meeting, another requirement of the executive order.

Foley and other district officials also presented updates to the reopening plan from the last time it was presented to the board. Among the items the district presented:

  • Attendance, defined as participating in remote school activities at any point in a day, can be taken through online check-in, completion of an assignment, email from parents, or email verification between teachers and parents. On the secondary level, attendance is taken for every class, and an email will be sent at 5 p.m. daily to parents whose child does not otherwise appear to have participated that day to see if the student actually did.

  • Athletics can resume in-person practices for fall sports Aug. 17, and competition is expected to start the week of Sept. 7, but the Arizona Interscholastic Association, high school sports’ governing body in the state, could offer additional guidance soon.

  • Chandler-Gilbert Community College now has a liaison to the district, Jasmine Mercado, for dual-enrollment classes at the district's high schools.

  • Free take-home meals from the fourth quarter and summer are no longer free, and the distribution has dropped from thousands per day to about 100. Letters have been sent to families about the changes and prices.

  • The district has approved an additional 2,786 technology devices for student use as of July 27, giving it about a 2-1 ratio of devices to students, and handed out 44 hotspots to assist families to get online for remote learning. The district is aiming to get to a 1-1 ratio on devices to students.

  • All classified employees have either been given an alternative work assignment or had a desire to stay home until in-person instruction starts honored, but the alternative assignments do not always reach the employee’s full-time equivalency, or FTE, status. The development allows the district to maintain its work force at this time.

  • The district also reviewed paid leave opportunities, cleaning and disinfecting protocols and equipment, the warehouse’s stockpiles and the addition of 13 part-time custodians to focus on frequently disinfecting high touchpoint areas at each school.

Other items

  • The board approved the rollover of $232,772 to fiscal year 2020-21 for renovations to the Williams Field High School auditorium.

  • The board approved longevity pay to employees, based on years of service, totaling $86,500 for FY 2020-21.

  • The board approved on a 4-1 vote its consent agenda, which drew a dissenting vote from Reese on a policy change for expense authorization and reimbursement. The change modifies the district’s travel policy to allow staff to be reimbursed in accordance with state authorized per diem amounts rather than requiring staff to submit a meal receipt to be reimbursed.

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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