For months, buses at the Agua Fria Union High School District transportation hub have been as motionless as a painting.
Soon, as many West Valley classrooms open for the first time in nearly seven months, drivers will rev up the diesel engines and put the buses in gear.
The time is fast approaching for teachers and students also to get back in gear, after months of teaching and learning online.
School is coming back—though with major changes.
Signs at schools will remind students to wear masks and practice social distancing.
At Saddle Mountain School District, “Our teachers and staff have been eagerly awaiting the day when they can welcome students back physically into our schools,” said Dr. Paul Tighe, the district superintendent, in a letter to families.
“The health metrics for our district have improved over the past two weeks to a point where we can safely resume in-person learning, with extra safety measures in place.”
Saddle Mountain reopens its Buckeye and Tonopah classrooms Tuesday, Oct. 13.
“As mandated by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, face coverings are required for students and staff,” Tighe noted.
Agua Fria Union high schools reopen a day before Saddle Mountain.
“We are still on schedule to open with the hybrid (schedule) on Oct. 12 and continue to monitor our planning,” said Dennis Runyan, superintendent of Agua Fria Union.
Runyan noted classrooms are already warming up with human presence. And, like other districts, Agua Fria provides the option of in-person or at-home learning.
“Teachers returned physically to the classrooms about 10 days ago to plan and to teach from their classrooms. We continue to collaborate together for safety planning and have about 5,800 students currently returning on a hybrid schedule and 2,200 students staying home for virtual learning on the flex plan,” Runyan said
At Agua Fria, Saddle Mountain and elsewhere, many students have been wearing masks to school-sponsored meal distributions and other events.
Some districts, like Pendergast Elementary School District, are taking more time to bring students back to school.
“We are carefully watching the Maricopa County benchmark data weekly before making any decisions to reopen. At this point, we will be learning virtually until further notice,” said Nedda Shafir, Pendergast spokeswoman.
Litchfield Elementary School District is also in wait-and-see mode: “We continue to monitor Litchfield Elementary School District’s benchmark standing on the Maricopa County Health Department’s School Reopening Dashboard with great anticipation of when to safely resume in-person learning,” Litchfield announced.
Littleton Elementary School District also remains undecided, as of press time: “Littleton has a board meeting scheduled for next Tuesday, Oct. 6, to discuss possibly returning to in-person learning Oct. 19 after our fall break,” said Rita Sanchez, a Littleton spokeswoman.
A move to yellow
According to the “School Reopening Dashboard,” much of the West Valley has moved from red (widespread COVID-19) to yellow (moderate).
New COVID-19 cases in Maricopa County dropped to about 300 per day in September and the first week of October. In August, an average of 556 new COVID-19 cases were reported daily in the county—a sharp fall from July, when the average of new cases was more than 2,200 per day.
The metrics are moving in the right direction in places like the Buckeye Elementary School District.
According to the district website, “BESD now falls within the yellow classification, with ‘Moderate Overall Risk.’ This is an improvement from our prior status of red.
“As a result: We will begin to partially reopen in ‘Yellow’ Oct. 12. … ‘Yellow’ indicates hybrid learning opportunities designed by the site that safely increases the number of students on campus.”
Sept. 28 through Oct. 2 was “transition week” at Avondale Elementary School District.
Classrooms at Avondale Elementary are scheduled to reopen Monday, Oct. 12.
Also Oct. 12, Liberty Elementary School District and Buckeye Union High School District plan to begin a hybrid model.
According to the Buckeye Union website, “Students will be divided into two groups. One group will attend classes on campus and in-person on Mondays and Thursdays, and will be distance learning on Tuesdays and Fridays. The other group will attend classes on campus and in-person on Tuesdays and Fridays, and will be distance learning on Mondays and Thursdays. All students will be distance learning on Wednesdays following a late start bell schedule specific to that day.”
It may take some time for students to get comfortable with the new schedules, masks and other changes.
But many teachers and staff around the West Valley would agree with Rob Roberson, superintendent of the Buckeye Union High School District. In a Facebook message, he said:
“We look forward to having students back on campus.”