CHANDLER, AZ — Excitement, uneasiness and more excitement for parents, teachers and students in Chandler who will be starting the new school year as close to normal as ever, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There’s nothing like the beginning of a school year," said Shumway Leadership Academy Principal Korry Brenner ahead of "Meet the Teacher" night at her school.
Across the Chandler Unified School District, students enjoyed the open house feel of seeing old (but young in age) friends and meeting their instructor who will be face-to-face to start the school year on Wednesday.
"[Teachers are] excited to have a full school year with their kids with them in person on the first day of school," said Brenner. "Able to build those relationships and just pick up where the kids are so we can move them as far as we possibly can."
Chandler Unified is one of a handful of schools and districts beginning the new year in mid-July. Legacy Traditional School, Queen Creek Unified and Maricopa County Unified School Districts are among the others welcoming students back to the classroom this week.
Staying in Chandler, Michaela Barber, a mom to three young children with two students at Hull Elementary School, says she's excited but nervous about sending her children back to class but has so far enjoyed the new-again pastimes of school prep.
"We did all the back-to-school shopping," said Barber. "We’re still gonna wear our mask, we’re still gonna have our hand sanitizers on our backpacks."
Her daughter, Lelani, is entering fifth grade and during her return to school, she's most looking forward to seeing her friends.
"I’m going to be really excited. I’m probably going to talk to them, see how they’re doing because I haven’t seen them in a year," she said.
At Shumway Leadership Academy, many of the mid-pandemic mitigation strategies will still be in place. There will be regular use of hand sanitizer and the routine cleaning of high touch point areas. Desks are spaced three feet apart, and in one kindergarten class, colored dots mark the floor reminding kids to socially distance at least three feet apart from his or her classmate.
COVID-19 contact tracing will also be new this year. In the Chandler Unified School District, if a student tests positive for COVID-19 (and must show the school the positive results), that student will be required to quarantine for 10 days. However, if a child is exposed to COVID-19, spending 15 cumulative minutes within three feet of an infected person in a 24-hour span, then it is the parent's decision whether or not the student has to quarantine.
Per an executive order from Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, schools are not allowed to discriminate against a child for being vaccinated or unvaccinated, and that, according to the Governor's Office, includes mandating quarantine for students who have been exposed to COVID-19 if said child is unvaccinated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control guidelines on quarantining students, it recommends any student who is not vaccinated and exposed to the virus quarantine for 10 days, but students who are vaccinated can stay in school if exposed.
The current COVID-19 vaccines have only been approved for children 12 years and older, so the majority, if not all students at Shumway Leadership Academy and other elementary schools in the state will not be vaccinated.
Brenner said there is an online option for learning that is provided by the district for students who opt-out of in-person learning for the year. If a child is at home quarantining due to a positive COVID-19 test, the school will treat their absence just as another other sick day and work with the family to send work home when possible.