Higley USD anticipates more 'normal-like' feel to school year

Dawn Foley
Higley USD Superintendent Dawn Foley unveils the district's plans for COVID-19 mitigation and school instruction to the district's governing board. (Screen shot from YouTube)

Higley USD Superintendent Dawn Foley unveils the district's plans for COVID-19 mitigation and school instruction to the district's governing board. (Screen shot from YouTube)

Higley USD plans to have full-time in-person learning at all campuses this fall with any transition between instruction models only happening at semester breaks under its plan as presented to the governing board June 23.

However, online instruction will be available through the Higley Virtual Academy, which will continue to utilize the Florida Virtual curriculum that was used during the pandemic.

The district is required to submit a Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services plan and publish it on its website as a part of accepting grant money in the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funding. HUSD has been awarded $7.87 million under ESSER III.

HUSD’s plan, which the district says can be updated and modified as needed, was updated this month and becomes effective with the new fiscal year July 1. It modifies or relaxes some of the previous policies in place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If I could summarize how will this year feel compared to last year, I will say this year, if I were to use a word, it will feel more normal-like,” Superintendent Dawn Foley said. “It will feel more like what we knew school to feel like. But there will be additional pieces ... because we are still navigating a pandemic.”

Among the changes, school closure would only be done through a determination of the Maricopa County Public Health Department, and any quarantining would be done on a case-by-case basis in collaboration with the county.

Communication will change as well. A “notification of a confirmed COVID-19 case on campus” will be sent to parents instead of a primary or secondary exposure notification. If quarantining is required, parents or guardians will receive a phone call from school administration along with written instructions for the quarantine.

However, the district plans to continue updating its active case dashboard on a daily basis, and classrooms that have had an active case will still get additional sanitation.

Parents and students will still be expected to follow daily health screening guidelines with students and staff being asked to stay home if they are not feeling well. The district also updated its exclusion guidelines on when students should be sent home and when they can return to campus.

One significant change is that visitors will be allowed on campus in the coming school year.

For staff, the district’s COVID-19 pay policy will end June 30, though general leave may be used. Staff members are asked to work with their administration and supervisors as circumstances dictate.

The district will continue to use site-based substitutes in the coming year.

Athletics and activities will look much as they did pre-pandemic with no limitations on the number of spectators or physical distancing and the resumption of student sections. However, paperless ticketing will continue to be used as well as live streaming of events where possible.

On buses, select windows will remain open to allow for fresh air, and drivers will apply sanitizer to seats and high-touch surface areas after each route.

With the federal government extending free meals for student-age children during the 2021-22 school year, Chartwells, the district’s food service provider, will provide free breakfast and lunch to students at all campuses. Online students may go to Higley Traditional Academy on Tuesdays and Fridays at pickup times to get meals for the week.

Higley Virtual Academy

As of the governing board’s June 23 meeting, 126 students are enrolled in the Higley Virtual Academy for fall. Elementary and middle school students who choose online instruction must do so full-time, while high school students have the option of going full- or part-time.

For the coming year, parents must keep a log of hours worked by students weekly for the district to receive funding from the state for the students.

The physical location for the academy will be at Power Ranch Elementary School, 4351 S. Ranch House Parkway, Gilbert, with one classroom being used as an office for Principal John Dolan and administrative assistant Angie Marqueling and three classrooms being used for the elementary school teachers. The academy has hired a teacher each for K-2, third and fourth grades, and fifth and sixth grades. Secondary school teachers are still to be hired.

Board President Kristina Reese said the biggest challenge with the academy is getting people to understand the district is launching a new school with it and not just another program.
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.


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