Apple, pile of books and backpack

Public school districts are monitoring West Valley surges in COVID-19 spread — while hoping to get as many teachers as possible vaccinated.

One West Valley district pushed reopening classrooms until March 15, to give teachers and staff time to get vaccinations.

While educators are in the 1B group that is eligible for coronavirus vaccinations, many are finding difficulty in landing appointments. This is part of a county-wide trend of demand exceeding the vaccine supply.

Agua Fria Unified High School District is partnering with Abrazo West Campus to host an educator point of distribution (POD). “The first vaccine event will be held Jan. 29 and 30,” said Tamee Gressett, a district administrator. “The second vaccine event will be held Feb. 19-20.”

Gressett stressed this will be an invitation-only event not open to the public: “Those receiving an invitation will be all school district employees of public, private, charter, diocese schools and licensed/unlicensed childcare. The invitations are restricted to those groups within our district boundaries,” she said.

Vaccines for West Valley educators comes at a time when another virus surge has districts wrestling with reopening dates.

All West Valley public schools returned from winter break with classes online only. No West Valley public school classrooms have opened yet, though some districts plan to have onsite teaching within the next week.

Since Dec. 1, the number of deaths due to COVID-19  in Arizona has nearly doubled, going from 6,639 to 12,239 — and one-third of the total deaths over the last year have come in the first three weeks of January. 

That also holds true for Maricopa County: One-third of the county’s 6,819 deaths due to COVID-19 have come in January.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 spread accelerates. According to the Maricopa County Health Department, “All school districts and ZIP codes in Maricopa County are experiencing substantial spread of COVID-19 according to three statewide benchmarks ...  For the most recent week of full data (1/3), Maricopa County had 885 cases per 100,000 people. Anything over 100 cases per 100,000 is considered substantial spread.”

Maricopa County’s “school metrics” website, updated Jan. 21, shows the COVID-19 surge continuing, with most West Valley ZIP codes showing increases — near and in some cases over 1,000 cases per 100,000 in the last week.

Buckeye and Tolleson continue as “hotspots,” with both surging by more than 20% over last week.

Classrooms still closed

Tolleson Union High School District remains online-only through March 12, as announced in early December. The district has not had in-person classes the entire school year and recently canceled winter sports seasons.

At Agua Fria Unified High School District, according to Superintendent Dr. Dennis Runyan, classrooms remain closed with online teaching “for the immediate timeline  … Our next update will be at the Feb 3 board meeting.”

Litchfield Elementary School District will remain in distance learning format “until further notice. You can expect another update on Friday, Feb. 12,” according to the district website.

At Littleton Elementary School District, “Our board extended distance learning until Feb. 12. They will revisit again at their Feb. 9 board meeting,” said district spokeswoman Rita Sanchez.

Buckeye Union High School District board approved reopening classrooms —  but not until Feb. 8”

According to a letter to families, classrooms at Buckeye Elementary School District will remain closed until March 15.

“We anticipate a majority of our staff will be fully vaccinated by that date,” wrote BESD Superintendent Dr. Kristi Wilson.