County virus data improving for schools The Chandler Arizonan

County virus data improving for schools

County virus data  improving for schools
City News
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By PAUL MARYNIAK
Arizonan Executive Editor

The Maricopa County Public Health Department has released a new dashboard to give parents and others an idea of the level COVID-19 cases by school district and the updated version indicates none of the school districts serving Chandler should reopen classrooms completely.

But the metrics released last Thursday indicate Chandler Unified, Tempe Union and the part of Kyrene could theoretically reopen partially, with students splitting their time on a rotating basis each week between classrooms and home.

That’s the set-up Gilbert Public Schools plans to start on Sept. 8, with students getting in-class two days a week.

The GPS student body would be divided by the first initial of last names so that some students in classrooms on, say, Monday and Tuesday, and the rest Wednesday and Thursday.

The district is still working out details but the student rotation provides for safe distancing of desks.

According to the data released by the county, the presence of COVID-19 in much of Tempe and Chandler puts the two cities in a yellow category.

County health officials break down that data by ZIP code as well as school district boundaries at maricopa.gov/5594/School-Metrics.

The data can be visualized on a map using three colors red, yellow and green – based on three sets of data that indicate virus spread.

Those data sets include the number of positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people; the percentage of positive new tests; and the percentage of hospital visits showing COVID-19 symptoms.

The color green indicates an optimal opportunity for reopening schools fulltime to all while yellow suggests a hybrid approach as Gilbert is doing and red indicates full online learning is advisable.

The data are 12 days old by the time the county posts the numbers and health officials advise districts to make sure the numbers don’t rise for two consecutive weeks before deciding to partially or fully reopen.

School districts last week began allowing a limited number of students back on campus for specialized support services and online instruction as required by the governor’s July 23 order.

The governor directed that districts, starting Aug. 17, must provide space and specialized services for students with no place to go, although they are allowed to limit the number allowed on campus because of staffing limitations or social distancing necessity.

Kyrene, which began its new Digital Academy July 30, also began distance learning for all other students last week while distance learning has already been underway for Chandler Unified and Tempe Union students.

Chandler Unified and Tempe Union have delayed in-classroom learning until mid-October, though Tempe Union said it would consider an earlier reopening of campuses if the virus data suggests it’s safe to do so.

While Kyrene has set no specific date for reopening, Superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely two weeks ago told the Governing Board: “Once all three benchmarks are safely in the green category, all students except those in the Kyrene Digital Academy will return to brick-and-mortar classrooms.”

Officials in Tempe Union and Kyrene already have said that they will follow the benchmarks for deciding when to reopen classrooms to all students.

Districts are not required to follow those benchmarks in deciding when to reopen classrooms.

County health officials are urging districts to pay particular attention to positive test results because “a higher percentage positivity can indicate that there is more disease spreading within the community, or it can mean that there is not enough available testing in the area.”

They said a hybrid learning scenario is advisable if all three benchmarks are at least in the yellow category.

“To move from a virtual to hybrid model,” the Health Department states, “the recommendation is to wait until there is less than 7 percent positivity for two consecutive weeks. This provides evidence that there is a sustained decrease in community spread and sufficient testing is available.”

Students who have been able to return to campuses are not being taught by teachers but rather are supervised by paraprofessionals or others who assist them with the same online learning their classmates are receiving at home.

In addition, a number of those students are in specialized programs, particularly special education.

Both Chandler Unified and Tempe Union also are requiring parents whose children are allowed on campuses to sign a “COVID-19 acknowledgement form and disclosure form” – a lengthy checklist that includes promises to check their child’s temperature every morning, make sure he or she goes to school with a facemask and that they understand their child may be required to wash his or her hands at various times in school.

Among the acknowledgements Chandler Unified parents make on the form is:

“While present at school each day, I understand that my child will be in contact with children and employees who are also at risk of community exposure. No list of restrictions, guidelines, or practices will remove the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

The form also advises parents that they are responsible for checking their children’s temperatures every morning before they head to school and that they should make sure their kids wash their hands and practice other safety protocols. Masks are generally mandatory.

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