Gilbert Public Schools announces return to in-person learning Sept. 8 through hybrid model

Gilbert Public Schools
Gilbert Public Schools' governing board will allow in-person instruction starting Sept. 8 if the state's health metrics have been met. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools' governing board will allow in-person instruction starting Sept. 8 if the state's health metrics have been met. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Gilbert Public Schools administration announced Aug. 19 the district will reopen to in-person instruction Sept. 8 as part of a hybrid model with online learning, then move to full-time in-person learning Sept. 21.

Families will be able to choose next week between moving toward in-person instruction and continuing full-time online instruction. The in-person offerings will be dependent on the district meeting the state’s health benchmarks, which district officials believe GPS is on pace to meet for the plan to be implemented.

The district’s decision comes one day after administrators presented the phased-in plan to the governing board. The board took no action at the Aug. 18 special meeting, but it already had authorized Superintendent Shane McCord on Aug. 11 to plan for and reopen schools safely when meeting the benchmarks.

McCord told the board Aug. 18 that the district must continue to meet the benchmarks during the period of hybrid learning to meet the Sept. 21 full reopening.

McCord was not immediately available for comment.

The district planned during the summer to reopen schools in three delivery models: in person; online through GPS Global Academy, the district’s online school; and the hybrid model that mixes the two.

However, as coronavirus cases continued to spike in Arizona during the summer, Gov. Doug Ducey ordered that schools not reopen before Aug. 17 to allow mitigation strategies to slow the virus’s spread.

The state later released the benchmarks—using cases per 100,000 population, percent positivity and COVID-19-like illness hospitalizations—to guide districts and charter schools on when to reopen.

Each category has metrics that correlate to substantial (red), medium (yellow) or minimal (green) community spread. When a district has all three categories in yellow or better, the state recommends return on a hybrid model. When all are green, the state recommends a return to in-person instruction.

GPS is in the green on two categories but still seeing substantial numbers in rate of positivity in testing. However, district officials said the trend there indicates the district will be in the yellow in time for the planned start to hybrid schooling and in the green on all three by Sept. 21.

The hybrid model has students working in person two days a week, doing independent learning two days a week and online instruction a third day.

What days a student would be on campus largely would be decided on an alphabetical sort, but the result would be campuses would only be at 50% capacity each day, allowing for greater social distancing not just at school but on buses, in the cafeteria or on the playgrounds as well.

The district also has a number of protocols for health screenings, cleaning, sanitizing, district operations and communications, which officials presented to the board Aug. 18 and at earlier board meetings.

The district considers using the hybrid model as a bridge to in-person learning to be a phased-in approach to returning in person, officials said..

The district began surveying staff Aug. 19-21 to determine their on-site return status, McCord said.

Then parents would give their preferred choice of delivery model for the first semester—in-person instruction or GPS Global Academy, from Aug. 21-24.

The district would then prepare schools for return to in-person instruction from Aug. 25-Sept. 4 with student enrollment and scheduling and staff reassignments.

McCord said the planned long-term hybrid model for elementary school students will phase out as the in-person instruction phases in because of the inability to staff that model for elementary school students. Hybrid learning will be available past Sept. 21 on the secondary school level.
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.