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COVID-19 Challenges: Vail District first to reopen in region

Supt.: 6-foot rule in classrooms may not be feasible
6-foot social distancing rule in schools
Posted at 10:24 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 01:35:09-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Education is going through a massive transformation because of COVID-19.

Arizona educators are still planning how public schools will reopen this coming school year while the system is still in flux.

A final decision will have to be made soon -- especially in the Vail district.

The Vail District is on a year-round schedule so it's the first in Southern Arizona to open classroom doors to students.

Schools are gearing up for a July re-opening — the 20th for K-through-8 and the 24th for high schools.

Superintendent John Carruth is deep in the planning process to hit those deadlines. “There are a number of hurdles to clear before we're ready to open.”

The first hurdle is classroom seating. The CDC recommends using the 6 feet social distancing rule when feasible.

“For us, and all schools, that's going to be really challenging,” he said.

And here's why -- Carruth is planning for 80 percent of student to return to schools based on parent surveys.

For the district to meet the 6 foot rule, class sizes would have to be limited to 10 to 12 desks. Carruth says, “I’ll tell you talking to superintendents across the state that's the biggest hurdle to overcome. We just don't have the space. There isn't any school in Arizona that has the space to do that.”

Carruth says more public health guidance is needed to determine what's reasonable -- what's doable. “While our local public health officials have been good to work with, I think we're going to need to have conversations with them and the state health department as far as what does that look like.”

To make it work, Carruth would have to plan multiple schedules and sessions that would include some remote learning. “Kids will have to learn remotely for longer periods of time for us to do that,” he said.

The district is already working on remote models since the remaining 20 percent of the students are looking for a hybrid or fully online option.

“That’s the one thing we're really planning for, how do we deliver that remote learning either all online or attached to the traditional brick and mortar that has a level of rigor we're accustomed to delivering in our school district,” said Carruth.

Any remote option is a financial concern is another huge hurdle.

The state bases school funding on the number students actually sitting in classroom seats.

Carruth says he still doesn't know if the law will change to accommodate any remote learning. “We're racing along as if that language will be there,” he says.

The pandemic’s evolving circumstances is moving hurdle.

Carruth still doesn't know whether he'll even be able to open classroom doors at the start of the school year.

Arizona is still in phase one of the reopening plan, based on federal guidelines.

“If we're still in phase one in July when our scheduled time to reopen is, we will open school remotely if we have to,” he said.

So the district is preparing to be able pivot quickly and not just at the start of the school year. “This isn't going to be going away any time soon. I think we’re wrapping our heads around that. This isn't a first semester or a second semester thing. This is at least a year long issue,” said Carruth.

Carruth serves on the ADE task force for reopening schools.