Gilbert Public Schools officials explain return to campuses

Gilbert Public Schools campuses opened for full-time in-person instruction Sept. 21. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gilbert Public Schools campuses opened for full-time in-person instruction Sept. 21. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools campuses opened for full-time in-person instruction Sept. 21. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Shane McCord and the district’s governing board defended the district’s return Sept. 21 to full-time in-person instruction while the district still has not met all the benchmarks for such a return.

McCord said at the Sept. 22 governing board meeting that following different color-coded dashboards, one from the state about Maricopa County COVID-19 metrics and one from the county about school district metrics, created confusion about what the district was looking for in deciding it was safe to return.

“We didn’t specify whether it had to be all green or how many yellows there had to be,” McCord said. “We just felt it was safe enough to continue based on those guidelines and based on the metrics that were set forth. That was the decision made.”

The dashboards show where areas stand in three categories: cases per 100,000 population, percentage positivity in testing and hospitalization rates for COVID-19-like illnesses. If rates are high, the state uses a red color to indicate it is unsafe to return in person. For moderate-risk numbers, the dashboards use yellow and recommend return for hybrid instruction that is part-time in person and part-time remote instruction. For low risk, the dashboards are coded green for safe to return in person full time.

The board voted July 28 to return to in-person instruction upon meeting the state’s health guidelines and marked Sept. 22 as a date to re-evaluate if the district had not met the guidelines. The board further authorized McCord to put together a return-to-school plan.

President Charles Santa Cruz and board member Reed Carr backed McCord’s interpretation of how the district intended for him to proceed.

“I appreciate that you are going through this in an effort to communicate to the public, but I do concur with your statement of, ‘We moved forward because we believe we are meeting the metrics,'” Carr said.

McCord presented snapshots of the dashboards over the past four weeks with Arizona Department of Health Services’ dashboard for Maricopa County showing the county to be green in all areas.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health’s dashboard for Gilbert Public Schools boundaries have been yellow for cases per 100,000 population, green for COVID-19-like illness and part yellow and part green for positivity percentage.

“This is definitely a community effort,” McCord said. “We have to be vigilant about adhering to some of those guidelines and mitigation strategies that we have in place in order to be able to stay in school because if the numbers go south, then we have to begin to look back again and start to make other decisions.”

McCord also unveiled a dashboard the district will publish that will show how many students and employees are on any campus and how many active cases of COVID-19 are on that campus. Once a student or employee is cleared to return to campus from COVID-19, he or she drops off the active case count.

McCord said the dashboard will be published weekly starting Sept. 23.

Bond and override report

Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz presented to the board the fiscal year 2019-20 bond and override report as required by state law.

The report summarized spending and balances from money collected through approved bond sales and the district’s maintenance and operations override.

Betz noted that the secondary property tax rate of $1.38 per $100 assessed valuation for the coming year will be lower than in 2015 and 2017, despite passing a $100 million bond question and increasing the M&O override from 10% to 15% in 2019. Those monies come into the district for FY 2020-21.
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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