When Gilbert Public Schools students return to school Aug. 4, they will do so without any mandate to wear a mask.

Instead, it will be optional, and schools will be vigilant about student and staff behavior regarding any mask bullying, GPS Superintendent Shane McCord told the governing board July 27.

That may seem unsurprising given the Arizona Legislature made mask or vaccine mandates in school unlawful in its past session. Nonetheless, the board heard from two people in the public comment period urging them to not have a mask mandate and a third person asking the board find a compromise solution that would encourage such mitigation strategies.

“I want to make sure everyone understands that, when the debate of mask or no masks comes up, this is what we’re sitting on,” McCord said. “This is an order. This is the law passed by the state. We are going to follow those things.”

Regarding bullying, McCord said it was important to respect what everyone is choosing to do in regard to masks.

McCord’s comments came during a presentation on the district’s planned mitigation strategies for the coming school year. Those include:

  • urging daily at-home health assessments for students and employees that involve four questions;

  • observing 3 feet of social distancing when possible while allowing for normal traffic flow and capacity in all areas;

  • scheduling events to be outdoors when possible;

  • updating the district’s COVID-19 dashboard on a weekly basis;

  • continuing positive COVID-19 notifications by letter when any students or staff have been within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period;

  • quarantining students identified as having been within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period or had physical contact with the positive person, unless the exposed student can show proof of vaccination or having been sick with COVID-19 in the past three months;

  • following mitigation and protocols determined by the Arizona Interscholastic Association for athletics and athletic events;

  • closing schools only as determined by the Maricopa County Public Health Department;

  • giving free meal service through the federal government for school-aged children through the school year;

  • keeping cleaning protocols the same as the previous school year;

  • observing 3 feet of social distance on school buses with the buses sanitized after each route and windows and vents being kept partially open for better air circulation;

  • keeping water fountains open inside and outside;

  • offering more water bottle filling stations;

  • putting no restrictions on parents and volunteers, though schools may adjust as needed;

  • allowing teachers to determine the physical layout of classes while allowing social distance if possible;

  • putting no formal restrictions on cafeteria spacing but allowing for social distancing where possible; and

  • putting no restrictions on recess.

McCord said the district will follow any further mandates from the state or county or any executive orders from the governor’s office.

Counting attendance for online students

The governing board also held its first of two required public hearings on how it will count attendance for online students toward the state’s minimum requirements for each student during a school year and for the district’s funding as based on average daily membership.

The first hearing focused mostly on secondary school students. Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz said the district will offer students in grades 7-12 three instructional models: in-person; synchronous online learning with enrollment through a district secondary school; or asynchronous online learning through Gilbert Global Academy, the district’s online school.

In the synchronous model, students will be expected to log on during regular class class time and interact with the teacher, much as if the student were present. Attendance will be taken at the beginning of the class period and reported as if the student were present in a classroom. Under that model, students will be funded at 100% under the state’s education funding formulas.

Betz called it a win-win for the district and students.

More traditional asynchronous online learning, in which students are taking classes in more of a self-paced manner, will continue to be at 95% for full-time online students and 85% for part-time online students.

The next hearing will be at the Aug. 10 meeting, after which the governing board can adopt those models.