Parents looking for clarity on the start of in-person instruction for the new school year today were told that individual school communities will make those decisions based on data benchmarks still being developed at the state level.
The benchmarks will be developed in cooperation with the Arizona Department of Health Services and will be announced Aug. 7.
“It is unlikely that schools will be ready to start their full, in-person instruction on Aug. 17 but we will have off-site learning opportunities in place,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, who joined Gov. Doug Ducey and AZDHS Director Dr. Cara Christ for the coronavirus briefing, which was broadcast on YouTube.
Aug. 17 was the “aspirational goal” set by Ducey during a June. 29 briefing. Since then, diagnosed cases of COVID-19 have risen to 152,944, with the state reporting 3,063 coronavirus-related deaths.
“Our shared goal is to get to a point where our schools are [safe to] open,” Hoffman said. “We’re not there yet.”
Under the “Arizona: Open for Learning” plan announced today, each school district and charter school must begin teacher-led distance learning by the first day of their traditional instructional calendar. For some districts that date lands in July; for others it lands in August.
Ducey suggested families continue to check district and school websites for specific in-person opening plans. Many districts, including Kyrene, Phoenix Union, Scottsdale Unified and Dysart Elementary, already have posted timelines ranging into September and October and beyond.
Plans for distance-only, in-person-only and hybrid distance/in-person learning models are being developed to give parents maximum flexibility in choosing options that are best for their children and address their family members’ unique risk factors.
Schools will continue to be required to provide 180 days of instruction or equivalent hours, whether a family chooses to do so in person or via distance learning.
“When we put this executive order together it was important to us to go back to … think about all the scenarios our schools might face,” Hoffman said. “We wanted to be prepared to do significant distance learning, we want our teachers to … start connecting with their kids. This will be a durable plan, rather than setting a date that could change again.”
The plan is “both comprehensive and flexible, allowing school communities to adapt to their unique needs,” she said.
When students do return to campuses, Ducey said, “All adults will required to wear masks.” Exceptions will be made for students when can socially distance, during recess, for example.
An additional investment of $370 million from CARES Act funding will be directed to K-12 public schools to ensure budget stability. The state will provide additional funds to close achievement gaps related to pandemic learning loss. Funds will expand broadband, seed innovative programming, provide tutoring by Teach for America teachers and more.
When pressed for specifics on health data points being developed, Christ said a decrease in positivity percentages in COVID-19 testing will be one of “a number of benchmarks we will be looking at.” The World Health Organization suggests communities rein back reopening plans until the positivity rate is at least 5%. Arizona’s positivity rate today was 24%.