Peoria Unified School District

Peoria Unified School District, despite being “in the red” for two consecutive weeks, will keep its classrooms open when winter break ends Jan. 4. The PUSD board voted to keep classrooms open “regardless of benchmark data.”

Many public school classrooms in Glendale will be closed to start 2021, as most districts are in online-only mode after a post-Thanksgiving spike in COVID-19 cases in communities.

But Peoria Unified School District classrooms at Glendale and Peoria high schools and elementary schools will be open Jan. 4.

The Peoria Unified School District Governing Board voted to keep classrooms open after winter break “regardless of benchmark data.”

Guidance from the county indicates PUSD, with two consecutive weeks of “substantial” data as of Dec. 24, has a recommended learning scenario of “virtual with onsite support.”

Maricopa County spokesman Ron Coleman noted the guidelines are flexible.

“It is correct that if all three metrics are in the red, ‘virtual’ should be recommended,” Coleman said. “If, however, a school is able to support safe in-school learning, we support that as well.”

Indeed, according to a Dec. 17 county webinar, “with the recent publications emphasizing the benefits of in-person learning, particularly for elementary schools, and the emerging data indicating that in-person school attendance is not a risk factor for youth testing positive for COVID-19, MCDPH recommends preferentially keeping elementary and middle schools open for in-person learning.”

The county updates school district data each Thursday, with three benchmarks: cases per 100,000, percentage of positive tests and percentage of “COVID-like illnesses.”

Anything over 100 cases per 100,000 is considered “substantial spread”—and the West Valley is many times above that minimum.

A Dec. 24 update shows PUSD’s three benchmarks remain “in the red” for the second consecutive week.

The cases per 100,000 in the PUSD community rose from 582 the previous week to 584. 

According to Maricopa County Department of Public Health guidance, school districts that have all three benchmarks in the red category of substantial risk for two consecutive weeks should “consult Public Health about preparation for virtual with onsite support.”

On Dec. 17, the Glendale Elementary School District analyzed the latest information from Maricopa County’s school metrics and decided to extend the online-only model.

GESD classrooms will remain closed through January.

The district’s winter break is Dec. 21 through Jan. 4.

“As we approach winter break, we understand that you are looking for a clear direction regarding our plans for returning after the break,” Superintendent Cindy Segotta-Jones said in a post on the district’s website and Facebook page.

“The Maricopa County Department of Public Health released metrics today indicating that all three benchmarks are in the red for all three of our GESD zip codes.”

One of the benchmarks showed cases per 100,000 in the GESD community soared from 324 the previous week to 540. 

A Dec. 24 update shows the cases per 100,000 in the GESD community rose even more, to 617.

“Based on the benchmarks, it is recommended that all GESD schools operate in the virtual learning model with onsite support upon our return from winter break,” Segotta-Jones wrote. “… We must also take into account the potential for increased exposure and transmission of COVID-19 in our communities as we continue planning for metrics updates in January.

“That said, the earliest projected date for a return to school in the hybrid model is Monday, Feb. 1,” she wrote. 

Monday, Jan. 4, is a Professional Growth Day for GESD, with no virtual instruction for students on that day. Online classes resume Jan. 5.

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Deer Valley Unified School District will also begin the next semester online when winter break ends.

According to DVUSD, kindergarten through eighth graders will have virtual learning from Jan. 4 through Jan. 15, with students returning to classrooms Jan. 19.

DVUSD high school students will be in virtual learning for an extra week, with high school classrooms reopening Jan. 25.

The Dec. 24 county update showed 525 cases per 100,000 in the DVUSD community.

At Glendale Union High School District, “All students will continue virtual/remote learning from home on Tuesday, Jan. 5,” according to the latest district information.

The Dec. 24 county update showed 539 cases per 100,000 in the GUHSD community.

“The Arizona Department of Health Services developed the benchmark thresholds at the request of the education community as a guide to help school districts determine when it is safe to return to in-person instruction. The experiences of other countries have indicated that reopening schools may be lower risk in communities with lower community transmission,” according to the schools COVID-19 website.

According to Maricopa County, “School nurses and other school healthcare personnel are eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in Phase 1A.”

Also according to the county’s school COVID-19 website, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the quarantine period has been shortened to 10 full days with no symptoms or seven full days with a negative test.

The bottom line, according to the county and state: “The health, safety and well-being of students, teachers, staff, and their families are the most important considerations in determining when schools can open for in-person learning.”