Higley USD board hears plans for in-person support services

Higley USD
In-person support services will start Aug. 17 in the Higley USD. (Courtesy Higley USD)

In-person support services will start Aug. 17 in the Higley USD. (Courtesy Higley USD)

The Higley USD governing board on Aug. 12 heard the district’s plans for in-person support services that will open for families Aug. 17.

District officials reiterated the services are not meant to be in-person instruction. Rather, it provides necessary services to students in special groups and be a safe place to go for remote learning for students who otherwise would not have a place.

Gov. Doug Ducey required such services by executive order July 23 when he presented the state’s “Open for Learning” plan in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the district, plan eligible students include:

  • special education students

  • English language learners

  • at-risk students

  • McKinney-Vento [homeless] students

  • employees’ children

  • children of essential workers

Families must register weekly by noon Aug. 13 to be eligible to receive services in the next week. Spaces are limited.

Eligible students—English learners, special education and disadvantaged students under Title I—will be provided with specific resources and assistance from assigned staff members.

Services will be offered in times that match up with schools hours.

All district campuses have designated classrooms or multipurpose spaces for the registered students to be supervised as they complete remote learning coursework.

Because of staff and space limitations, the district is recommending students only stay on campus for the amount of time needed to complete remote learning coursework.

Students will be required to attend their remote learning sessions and complete assignments.

There is no recess nor in-person specials/electives, and instruction is done through the Canvas learning management platform the district uses.

Breakfast and lunch will be offered at each school site as is done during a regular school year.

Face masks

The board voted unanimously to approve a policy requiring face coverings for all students, employees, volunteers and visitors to the district. Ducey’s executive order July 23 required boards to adopt such a policy.

Board Vice President Kristina Reese questioned having a mask policy rather than a strong recommendation that reaches down to preschool students in the district.

Reese, who ultimately voted for the policy and said she supported it, expressed concerns that the district's youngest students ultimately may be repeatedly putting on and taking off masks, and vigilance on it may erode to the point where a district policy was being ignored.

Board members Scott Glover and Jill Wilson expressed similar concerns, but district officials expressed that this was the best way to go.

“There is no perfect answer,” Elementary Education Executive Director Sherry Richards said.

Athletics restart

David Loutzenheiser, secondary education and athletics executive director, presented the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s plans for a staggered start to fall sports in the state.

The AIA, of which Higley USD is a member, is the governing body for most high school sports in the state.

Practices will not start sooner than Aug. 17, when golf and spiritlines will start up. Golf will start competition a week later, and other sports will unfold in the weeks thereafter.

Football will be the last to start, with Sept. 7 hosting the first practices and a Sept. 30 start to the season. Football championships will be pushed back to Dec. 11-12.

Loutzenheiser said fall seasons would be shortened and playoff fields reduced to get the seasons in. The association is working on revised schedules now.

Winter sports will be pushed back one week, Loutzenheiser said.


Human Resources Executive Director Mum Martens said the district plans to hire 26 full-time “rescue substitutes” to address absences due to illness and possible difficulty in getting substitute teachers.

Martens said the cost to the district would be about $500,000 that it was not expecting when it put together its budget. That is on top of about $200,000 the district had to purchase in personal protective equipment, known as PPE, which also was an unexpected expense.

Board, public response

Superintendent Mike Thomason read more emails about the board’s Aug. 8 decision to delay return to in-person instruction until Oct. 12 or earlier if state health benchmarks are met.

The emails were divided between criticism and thanks for the decision, with the critics in some cases sharply condemning the board’s action.

Board Member Greg Wojtovich fired back at some critics for the manner in which they have criticized the board, contrasting it to times when crises brought the community together.

“Nothing—nothing—has prepared me for what I have been experiencing as a board member in this community,” he said. “I have noticed a change in this community. You will not believe, all of you watching out here, you have not a clue as to the cruel, hateful emails that I received because I voted for online learning.”

Wojtovich offered a few examples and said he has a young, athletic son who caught the virus and nearly died from COVID-19 and still suffers complications. Wojtovich said he shared that experience with someone who contacted him as something that affects his view of the situation.

“You know what the response was?” Wojtovich said. “’I don’t care about your son. I want the schools open.’

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh. Where has this community gone?’ I am sharing this with you because I want you to understand the cruelty in this community.”

Thomason shared with board that more localized data should be coming out from Arizona Department of Health Services, which had been releasing data on a county basis. Reese greeted the news as being helpful. She had voted for a more immediate return to in-person instruction, saying she believed the district’s area is less affected by the virus than the countywide numbers showed.

Other actions

  • The board approved on a 4-1 vote spending an additional $41,376 to upgrade flooring for the media centers at Higley and Williams Field high schools to a kind that would not be as slick and therefore safer.

  • The board unanimously approved the expenditure of $842,300.40 of bond money to purchase six air conditioned buses.

  • The board unanimously approved the expenditure of $243,264.18 to purchase 125 laptops for career and technical education students in graphic information technology programs.

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.