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A few weeks after they joyously welcomed students back to classrooms, schools across the West Valley told students they have to stay home after a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases sent several districts “into the red.”

According to Maricopa County guidance based on statistics showing the spread of COVID-19, red means “substantial risk” for schools to remain open.

“Going to school should never potentially become a super-spreader event,” Dr. Roger Freeman said in his letter telling parents the Littleton Elementary School District was closing classrooms.

Littleton and Litchfield elementary school districts announced Friday, Nov. 6, that classrooms would close Monday, Nov. 9.

On Nov. 4, Agua Fria Union High School District’s governing board voted to close classrooms and offer online learning only through December.

Though other Buckeye Union High School District schools remain open, Youngker High School temporarily closed Nov. 9 due to a lack of teachers. 

While Goodyear and Avondale are “hotspots” with the highest COVID-19 spread, most of Maricopa County and the state are experiencing alarming rises in coronavirus cases.

Maricopa County reported 1,410 new COVID-19 cases Nov. 6 and 1,266 Nov. 7—the most since Aug. 1 and nearly double the average of new cases of the previous week. The August daily average of new cases in the county was 565. The daily average dropped significantly in September, to about 283 new cases per day. A surge at the end of the month brought the October daily average of new COVID-19 cases in the county to 572. 

In his letter, Freeman told Littleton families “the metrics  released continue to show a high ratio of COVID-19 cases and percent positivity. Our community is now classified as having substantial spread for two consecutive weeks in two metrics.  Accordingly, all students will transition back to full-time distance learning starting on Monday,  Nov. 9, until further notice.

“While we understand this may be frustrating news, know that we remain committed to providing a quality education for our students while doing so in a safe environment for both  students and staff.”

Littleton and other districts will continue to provide on-site support for students who need a place to go.

A Litchfield Elementary School District letter to families noted, “Our percent positivity is now above 7% and our cases per 100,000 people have spiked within the ‘substantial risk’ (red) range to an alarming 156.79.”

At a two-hour meeting, Agua Fria Union High School District’s governing board voted Nov. 4 for students to return to virtual learning starting Monday, Nov. 9, until the end of the semester.

Tolleson Union High School District previously announced it will not have teaching in classrooms until January.

The Agua Fria district serves students in Avondale, Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield, Waddell and part of Glendale at five high schools: Agua Fria, Canyon View, Desert Edge, Millennium and Verrado.

Football and other sports will continue in the district.

Urging the board to vote in favor of closing classrooms through December, Superintendent Dr. Dennis Runyan said doing so will “have a better chance as a community to reverse this spread. ... This is temporary,” he stressed, adding “we all aspire to return to classrooms being opened full time.”

The board vote was 3-1, with Vickie Landis, Mariana Sandoval and Mary Kay Utecht voting for the classroom closure, Gina DeCoste voting against the motion and Maxine Hill abstaining.

At Buckeye Union High School District, acting Superintendent Rob Roberson said the district’s current COVID-19 data supports remaining in hybrid. “But if the numbers keep moving in the direction they are going, we will have to move to distance learning.”

The exception is Youngker High School, which moved from hybrid to distance learning Nov. 6.

“Youngker has to go to distance learning because we’re learning we’ve had too many staff members go to quarantine or test positive,” Roberson said.

“We don’t have the staff to supervise our students. And we can’t get the substitutes.”

The situation at Youngker High School will be assessed in two weeks, he said.

According to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, “If community spread begins to increase to a higher level, schools should proactively begin discussions about a potential need to return to a more physically distanced learning scenario.

“If a school district or other defined school area (e.g., charters) has one or more benchmarks in the ‘Substantial (Red)’ category for two or more weeks, schools should consult with MCDPH to determine whether to prepare to transition back to virtual learning with onsite support services. If a school district or other defined school area has all three benchmarks in the ‘Substantial (Red)’ category for two or more weeks, schools should prepare to transition to virtual learning with onsite support services.”