Maricopa County Department

The School Reopening Dashboard and Guidance at Maricopa County Department of Public Health shows most of the West Valley is “in the red”—meaning a high level of community spread of coronavirus.

The Buckeye Elementary School District unveiled plans for reopening on its website.

If all goes well, the district will reopen classrooms Oct. 12.

A “phase-in stage” is scheduled to begin Sept. 21, as long as the following benchmarks are met:

• Positivity rate below 7%.

• Cases less than 100 per 100,000 people or two-week decline in cases.

• COVID-like illnesses less than 5%.

While BESD classrooms will not fully open, and transportation will not be provided, the phase-in stage will allow students to:

• Continue learning in the virtual environment.

• Be invited and encouraged to participate in small-group learning experiences during scheduled times.

• Receive food services while on campus.

BESD will have a “reopening stage” Oct. 12 if the following benchmarks are met:

• Positivity rate below 5%.

• Cases less 10 per 100,000 people or two-week decline in cases.

• COVID-like illnesses less than 5%.

The reopening stage at BESD will allow students to:

• Return to school, with potential restrictions on nonessential activities or gatherings.

• Receive district provided transportation (if qualified).

In both stages, students must follow Maricopa County requirements on face-covering protocols.

The BESD plan is in keeping with county and state guidelines.

Similarly, other West Valley public school districts, including the Avondale Elementary School District, are carefully watching county and state data.

According to a district announcement, “On Sept. 1, (the) AESD Governing Board approved our reopening process to start in-person instruction for families who selected this model. Our area has not currently met the benchmarks to allow reopening, however we wanted to ensure our families have this information to assist in planning for the transition.”

The Agua Fria Union High School District governing board is to discuss its plans for reopening at a Sept. 17 meeting.

“We will be reviewing some options at that meeting to consider starting the hybrid model when students return from fall break on Oct. 12,” said Dennis Runyan, the Agua Fria superintendent. “I will have more on this at a later date, but the hybrid rotation has 50% of the students on campus each day in an alternating schedule. The other 50% is still learning virtually when they are home.”

Similarly, the Buckeye Union High School District governing board has no plan to meet before its scheduled Sept. 14 meeting, according to Rob Roberson, BUHSD’s interim superintendent.

The Tolleson Union High School District governing board voted July 28 to delay in-person student learning until Oct. 9.

TUHSD’s board met Aug. 24 but did not make any changes. It will meet again Sept. 22.

While other districts around the West Valley follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s order to have at least one location for students who need a place to go during school hours, TUHSD was granted a waiver and is not offering on-site services.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, “Per Executive Order 2020-51, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) created public health criteria to be used by schools to determine when it is safe to reopen for traditional in-person classroom instruction.”

Though Gov. Doug Ducey gave school districts the power to make their own classroom reopening decisions, the county has strong recommendations based on data/metrics/benchmarks: “There are two Learning Scenarios that can be recommended when there is Moderate Community Spread: 1.) Virtual Learning with Onsite Support when an area has a weekly test % positivity of 7-10%, or 2.) Hybrid once the community has met the recommended threshold for percent positivity of less than 7% for two consecutive weeks.

“To move from a Virtual to Hybrid learning scenario, ADHS and MCDPH recommend schools wait until there is less than 7% positivity in their area for two consecutive weeks. This provides evidence that there is a sustained decrease in community spread and sufficient testing is available. If your area is highlighted in yellow and the recommended learning scenario indicated is ‘virtual with onsite support,’ it is because your area has not yet reached two weeks with a % positivity less than 7%.”

The latest School Reopening Dashboard and Guidance at Maricopa County Department of Public Health showed slight improvements, but most of the West Valley remains “in the red”—meaning a high level of community spread of coronavirus.

According to the site, “The two key components to reopening school buildings for in-person instruction are the quality of the school’s mitigation plan and the level of spread occurring within the community where the school is located. Public Health has created a dashboard tool to assist with decision-making for the types of learning scenarios schools may consider for re-opening. ... Data used to generate this report are based upon the benchmarks and thresholds for re-opening established by the Arizona Department of Health Services.”