Back to School: Expect (Mostly) the Expected

by Blake Herzog

As students return to school after the most unusual and unpredictable academic year any of us hope to see in our lifetimes, district and charter schools are planning to keep routines as smooth as possible for the large majority choosing in-person campus learning.

They are also providing options for students and parents who are more comfortable with online learning, as well as some safety protocols to prevent transmission of any COVID-19 or other viruses still circulating in the community.

“I think most of them are ready to get back to some kind of normal; really that’s what we’re hearing from our parents,” says Dawn Hodge, superintendent of Coolidge Unified School District. “And we are offering that fully online option for those families that are not comfortable with coming back in person.”

The online options will be provided via the Edgenuity platform for K-8 students and Grad Point for grades 9-12.

As of mid-June parents were beginning to register their kids for the coming semester. Hodge estimates about 10% of students will remain online.

Dr. Tracey Lopeman, superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District, says as of late June 255 students out of a total of about 6,700 have registered for the Maricopa Virtual Academy, a continuation of the 2020-21 school year’s K-12 online instruction.

“Many families realized this model works well for their lifestyle and now have the option to continue the learning-at-home experience,” she adds. The district is recommending the program for students who are self-motivated, home-schooled, gifted, or “on the go.”

Patty Messer, executive director/founder of Grande Innovation Academy in Casa Grande, says the charter school has been authorized for an online academy for grades 4-8, but “we only have about 15 students of 900 wanting online next year.”

Safety protocols

Lopeman says the Maricopa district is “in the process of evaluating mitigation strategies to align with updated guidance from federal, state, and county agencies. We anticipate maintaining elevated cleaning standards and hygiene measures, along with optional mask-wearing and social distancing when possible.”

Hodge says masks will be optional in the Coolidge district this year, and officials will be following Centers for Disease Control recommendations when it comes to sanitation. “We will continue with our sanitation and disinfection procedures several times throughout the day, whether it’s a self-contained classroom or students move from class to class.”

She adds: “We can’t technically socially distance with all students back in person, but we’ll do the best we can to limit class sizes as possible.”

Messer says Grande Innovation Academy’s cleaning crew has been expanded to five full-time staffers, and bathrooms will be cleaned every hour along with all touchable surfaces.

“We installed Spectra Lights, which kill germs on surfaces. Masks are optional,” she says.

Catching up

The Maricopa and Coolidge districts and Grande Innovation Academy will all have additional instruction available for students to recover from any learning loss encountered during the pandemic.