PHOENIX — School districts planning to return to in-class learning later this month or in April are now busy moving up their timetables after Governor Ducey issued an executive order Wednesday, ordering schools to offer the option for in-person learning by March 15.
“It was definitely a surprise and it was a bit last minute because we have Spring Break next week. So we have a lot of work to do until then,” said Veronica Sanchez of the Cartwright School District.
Cartwright School District passed a resolution Thursday evening to comply with Governor Ducey's order of starting an in-person learning option by March 15. Some staff will now be spending their spring break setting things up to make that possible.
AZDHS says the new state benchmarks for schools in Arizona now look at one week of data and do not count reports of COVID-like illness.
The Cartwright governing board discussed that during a special meeting, saying the district falls under a “substantial” risk of transmission.
Cases per 100,000 have reduced and percent positive is now at 15% but the district is still in "red."
Governor Ducey made clear in his order that the only exception is for middle & high schools located in counties with “high” transmission.
Maricopa County is not in that category.
Cartwright School District is continuing to take steps to ensure safety, like providing enough PPE at all sites.
Staff members are also continuing to get vaccinated, 35% have already received their second dose.
Cartwright was planning to remain in remote learning until the start of summer school in June. But that doesn’t mean the district hasn’t been preparing to reopen schools to in-class learning.
In fact, Cartwright initiated COVID-19 mitigation protocols in March of 2020. That’s when schools began receiving weekly deep cleanings, which is a practice that continues today.
Classrooms are set up to socially distance students and plexiglass separates administrators from visitors. When children arrive on March 15, they’ll have their temperature taken and have access to hand sanitizer.
The district documented its COVID measures on its YouTube channel for parents and students to see.
“We’re going to get it done and we basically got this,” Sanchez says. “We got this because of all of the planning we’ve been doing up until this moment.”
Chris Kotterman of the Arizona School Boards Association says better communication between the Governor’s Office and school administrators would have been nice. Most districts are working on a return to class timetable.
“The governor has come in and sort of made a unilateral decision that March is going to be the month. That’s fine. It would have gone a little smoother if they were able to give us a heads up that was going to happen,” Kotterman said.
Kotterman said the Arizona School Boards Association isn’t opposed to the date, only that Ducey chose to politicize it at the expense of public educators.
“We have this idea in our heads that schools don’t want to open and parents want them open and the governor has to make them open,” Kotterman said. “That is just not the case.”
Within hours of the announcement of the governor’s executive order, parents from the Cartwright District began receiving information on transportation and meal programs.
Sanchez says, “I think the message for parents is that we’re ready and will help in any way we can.”
The Cartwright Board planned to hold a special meeting Thursday evening but were unable to due to scheduling conflicts.
They released the following statement instead saying:
"The Cartwright Education Association is dedicated to the safety of staff, students, and families.
Our association team has had many late-night meetings, phone calls, and several conversations regarding the need to focus on our community and their needs and wants. Our association members have come together to compile many thoughts and questions that the Cartwright School District and Governing Board have welcomed and answered.
Local control has been taken away with the announcement of this executive order, but we have not wavered in our ability to compromise in order to benefit all. We will continue to work in partnership with district leadership, towards an understanding that during this process, not everyone will be happy, but we will strive toward keeping everyone safe.
We appreciate the relationship with our district executive team and our Governing Board who only met a few weeks ago and decided together the importance of keeping our community safe. We strongly believe and will do anything we can to adhere to CDC guidelines."