Sahuarita Unified School District will implement a hybrid model and staggered returns for students to in-person classrooms when they resume.
That return date, originally set for Sept. 8, has been pushed to Sept. 17.
The Arizona Department of Health Services updated its progress metrics for Pima County last week indicating two of the three benchmarks have been met for reopening at a moderate, or "yellow," transmission rate.
Sahuarita Unified School District approved a hybrid model for the return to in-person classes at its governing board meeting last week. As long as all the state’s dashboard metrics shift to the yellow/moderate level this week, SUSD plans to implement that hybrid model on Sept. 17.
Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said the updated metrics confirm that a hybrid model, which limits the number of students on campus, is the appropriate step to take based on the latest data from the state and county.
“The implication of the dashboard update is significant for us as our board has been very clear we want to use those metrics to guide us in our actions,” he said. "When the board approved the hybrid model it authorized me, when all those indicators go into the moderate transmission range, to proceed with the initiation of this next step.”
Under a hybrid model, students will be divided into two groups, A and B, to limit the number of students in a classroom, as well as provide some extra time to the district to deep clean the facilities.
Currently, the plan is to have Group A attend in-person classrooms Mondays and Tuesdays, while Group B would meet Thursdays and Fridays.
During the time students were not attending class in-person they would continue with remote learning. Wednesdays would be used for extra deep cleaning of the schools.
Valenzuela said the option is not ideal but it’s what they have to do to start getting students back to school.
“It’s hard working in an online domain when traditional public education is largely designed for in-person learning, and the feedback we’re getting from families is they desire to get back,” he said. “We're working as hard as we can to achieve that but we have to go at a slow and steady pace so this hybrid is a transition phase.”
The district views the hybrid model as temporary.
The two cohort groups, A and B, will be based on alphabetical last names, though Valenzuela said they will work with families if students in the same household have different last names.
The district will start to bring back students in-person with elementary level grades, while middle and high school students will be phased back onto campus in the following weeks.
“With the elementary school level, it’s a smaller subset of students by design and easier to keep them in self-contained cohorts which will help minimize the likelihood of spread,” Valenzuela said. “To a degree, we don’t fully understand how the hybrid model will look until we apply it in a more controlled and smaller setting.”
Starting with a smaller population allows the district to smooth out their procedures before the entire student population returns.
SUSD is also planning to create longer passing periods between classes and longer lunch periods to further distance students. Valenzuela said they want to avoid a situation where they would have to close again if they opened in-person to the whole population prematurely.
“A staggered return makes sense because it allows movement but is thoughtful and aligned with the metrics,” he said. “It’s designed to help us be successful for the long haul because we don't want to move too quickly and run the risk of problems that require us to go backwards.”
The district will be sending out specifics based on a student’s school and grade level to parents this week.
Continental Elementary School District will also be likely implementing a hybrid model or a staggered grade level return to brick and mortar classes.
In their most recent governing board meeting, the board discussed several ideas and the district is waiting on the results of a parent survey to make their final decision.
During the meeting, Superintendent Roxana Rico said if they can keep classrooms to no more than 17 students, students will not have to wear masks all day during class. The district estimates with that number of students they can separate desks by six feet.
Based on enrollment, multiple grade levels look like they would exceed that number.