student girl using tablet computer at home

For most West Valley public schools, winter break ends Jan. 4, with classes resuming.

But most classrooms will be closed, as 2021 begins with online learning for most public school students.

“Litchfield Elementary School District’s data from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health has skyrocketed. Our kindergarten through eighth grade students will remain in distance learning until further notice,” according to an LESD website pre-break post. “We will continue to monitor the metrics and will send you another update on Jan. 15.”

At the other LESD, Littleton Elementary School District, “All students will remain in full-time dynamic distance learning through Jan. 15.”

At Buckeye Elementary School District, “families should plan for continued virtual instruction the week of Jan. 4,” according to a pre-winter break post at the district website.

Buckeye Union High School District “will be in Distance Learning for all students for at least the first two weeks of January,” according to the BUHSD website. “On Jan. 4, all schools will follow their late start schedule.”

Agua Fria Unified High School District also begins its new semester online. “As we continue to monitor the possible future return to ‘in-person’ campus classes, we will bring an update to the first Jan. 13 board meeting. This meeting will include an update on metrics and information for future planning opportunities that can be safely considered,” Superintendent Dennis Runyan said in a letter posted before winter break.

Similarly, Avondale Elementary School District—which returned to online teaching Dec. 14—will remain in virtual learning mode after winter break. “AESD has not established reopening guidelines to return to in person learning. We will address this in a governing board work session after the winter break,” according to a posting on the district website.

There will be some activity at many school campuses, however. 

As the county website stresses: “Per Executive Orders 2020-51 and 2020-41, school districts and charter schools are ‘still obligated to provide on-site learning opportunities and support services,’ regardless of the level of community COVID transmission, unless a waiver from the Arizona Department of Education has been obtained.”

The county COVID-19 schools website shows West Valley districts with overall risk levels of “substantial” and recommended learning scenarios of “virtual with onsite support.”

The county updates school district data each Thursday, with three benchmarks: cases per 100,000, percentage of positive tests and percentage of “COVID-like illnesses.”

Anything over 100 cases per 100,000 is considered “substantial spread”—and the West Valley is many times above that minimum.

• On Dec. 23, the Buckeye Elementary School District’s cases per 100,000 rose from 658 to 741.

• Liberty Elementary School District’s cases per 100,000 rose from 716 to 794.

• Avondale Elementary School District cases per 100,000 rose from 656 to 891.

• Littleton Elementary School District cases per 100,000 rose from 749 to 839.

• Litchfield Elementary School District cases per 100,000 rose from 526 to 614.

• Saddle Mountain Unified School District cases per 100,000 rose from 680 to 804.

• Buckeye Union High School District cases per 100,000 rose from 689 to 771.

• Agua Fria Union High School District cases per 100,000 rose from 567 to 708.

• Tolleson Union High School District cases per 100,000 fell slightly, from 695 to 692.

“The Arizona Department of Health Services developed the benchmark thresholds at the request of the education community as a guide to help school districts determine when it is safe to return to in-person instruction. The experiences of other countries have indicated that reopening schools may be lower risk in communities with lower community transmission,” according to the schools COVID-19 website.

According to Maricopa County Public Health, school nurses and other school health care personnel are eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in Phase 1A, the first part of the rollout.

Also according to the county’s school COVID-19 website, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the quarantine period has been shortened to 10 full days with no symptoms or seven full days with a negative test.

The bottom line, according to the county and state: “The health, safety and well-being of students, teachers, staff and their families are the most important considerations in determining when schools can open for in-person learning.”