Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday, July 23, a plan for opening the state’s schools. Called “Arizona Open for Learning,” highlights include leaving it to local school districts to decide when they should re-open for in-person classes. The decision will be made according to recommendations from local and state health officials and guidelines and benchmarks to be set by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The ADHS has until Aug. 7 to develop and release their public health benchmarks and guidelines for when schools can safely reopen for in-person, teacher-led classes.
Parker Unified School District Superintendent Brad Sale said he appreciated the idea of letting local districts decide when they would re-open for in-person classes. However, he expressed some concern about what the benchmarks from the ADHS would be.
Other highlights include a face-covering mandate, $69.2 million in funds to close the “achievement gap,” and $370 million in federal funds to provide grants to local school districts and charter schools.
In a report on the governor’s website at https://azgovernor.gov/sites/default/files/open_for_learning.pdf, it’s stated that learning needs to start “ASAP” (As Soon As Possible). Each school must start with distance learning on the normal opening day for the new school year. Schools will continue to provide 180 days of instruction, whether a family chooses to do so in person or via distance learning.
The plan also calls for on-site learning options and support services for students. Sale said this means they must provide an actual, physical place for students to go to.
The report said this is for parents who have essential jobs that require them to work and for children who do not have access to technology. This is also for children who may be in the care of the Department of Child Safety or foster care.
Sale said he’s received offers of physical, on-site learning locations from several sources, including the Players Ninth Street Youth Center.
Throughout the spring and summer, Parker resident Buni Hooper has kept the Gingerbread House, a day care center, open for the small children of essential workers.
As for the funds to target the achievement gap, the report noted a study by McKinsey & Co. that said the pandemic was most likely to negatively impact most among low-income, Black and Hispanic students.
McKinsey, a worldwide management consulting firm that operates in 65 countries, said “Lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning or to a conducive learning environment, such as a quiet space with minimal distractions, devices they do not need to share, high-speed internet, and parental academic supervision.”
To bridge this gap, the following funds will be spent:
• $40 million to expand broadband in rural communities to bridge the digital divide
• $20 million to bring in extra support for high-need schools
• $6 million for the Arizona Teachers Academy to assist with the teacher shortage
• $1 million in microgrants to support innovative programs to continue educating Arizona students
• $1 million for vehicles for the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind
• $700,000 for leadership development through Beat the Odds Leadership Academy
• $500,000 for tutoring from Teach for America to provide tutoring to kids most in need, in schools most impacted across the state.
The report stated the goal of Arizona Open for Learning was to provide as normal and consistent an education as was possible with the coronavirus pandemic, while prioritizing their health and safety. The report praised teachers and educators for how they’ve handled things since last spring, and said schools are the backbones of our communities.
“This presents the greatest challenge to public education in our lifetimes,” the report said. “Arizona has the opportunity to lead the nation in providing the best learning experience to kids during this crisis.”