Peoria Unified and Deer Valley district classrooms

Peoria Unified and Deer Valley district classrooms in Glendale and Peoria remain open, despite a growing number of cases in the communities they serve.

While Glendale Elementary, Glendale Union High School and many other districts around the Valley have closed classrooms and returned to online teaching, Peoria Unified and Deer Valley district classrooms remain open.

But key data has PUSD putting plans in place in case the COVID-19 spread continues to worsen.

Update: With almost every West Valley public school district closing classrooms - and some planning to stay online-only well into the New Year - Peoria Unified School District is bucking the trend. At its Dec. 10 meeting, the PUSD governing board voted 5-0 to return from winter break on Monday, Jan. 4, with classrooms open.

On Dec. 4, Dr. Jason Reynolds, the PUSD superintendent, cautioned the district is on the verge of closing classrooms.

“Our community health data is trending in the wrong direction,” Reynolds said. “We are currently in the red in two benchmarks. We reconvened our COVID taskforce and are in the process of making plans for a potential return to virtual learning.”

The PUSD semester ends Dec. 17, with schools closed through Jan. 4.

“With the two-week holiday break fast approaching, we want to make sure we are ready in the event we need to return to virtual learning to start the second semester,” Reynolds said in a video message. 

“If we move to red in all three categories, we need to act to keep our students and adults that enter our schools each and every day safe.”

Districts make their decisions based largely on key metrics measuring COVID-19 spread in the communities they serve.

At its Dec. 1 meeting, the Peoria Unified School District board heard a presentation on the metrics from the week before, showing the district was in the red, meaning “substantial spread” of COVID-19, on two of three metrics. 

The number of cases per 100,000 in PUSD communities grew over the last month, from 110 to 267. And the percentage of positive tests grew from 7% to 12%.

Maricopa County updates the metrics every Thursday.

On Dec. 3, the new metrics showed cases per 100,000 in PUSD communities grew to 321. 

But PUSD did not plan to close classrooms this week.

“We do not anticipate any changes this week based on the newly released data,” said Erin Dunsey, a PUSD spokeswoman.

“We are monitoring the data closely and continue to follow our process in that if we are in the red for all three benchmarks for two weeks, we will need to change our instructional status.”

Dunsey noted PUSD is in the red in two of the benchmarks “and medical experts have told us that with the holidays, we can expect to see a continued increase in cases.”

“We want nothing more than to keep our schools open and are encouraging our community to maintain safe practices outside of school. If our data tells us that it is not safe for us to continue to be open, we will provide an update to our community on next steps to transition into virtual learning,” Dunsey added.

PUSD’s website has a “COVID-19 dashboard” it updates weekly. As of Dec. 4, the dashboard showed 21 “total active cases district wide” out of 38,568 students, teachers and staff at 42 locations.

Deer Valley’s COVID-19 dashboard, updated Dec. 7, showed 102 active cases out of 32,000 students and staff at 40 locations, including Deer Valley and Mountain Ridge high schools.

Deer Valley Unified’s metrics showed red with 285 cases per 100,000 but yellow in the other two metrics.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health school metrics site notes, “With all COVID-19 community spread benchmarks continuing to trend upward, Public Health urges the community to be vigilant with wearing face coverings, limiting social gatherings with those outside your household, and staying home and away from others when sick.”

Arizona Department of Health Services reported 6,799 new COVID-19 cases in the state Dec. 5, topping the previous record of 5,680 set Dec. 4.