By Cody Kennedy

A question that has been on every parent, teacher and school administrators’ mind lately: What’s going to happen when it’s time for school to start? The original date for when students would return to school campuses was set for August 10. Then, COVID-19 numbers soared, and the Scottsdale Unified School District determined that in-person schooling was not a viable option. Instead, students will start the school year online.

SUSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel and the Board decided to delay students’ return to campus until at least September 8, the day after Labor Day, if allowed to return in-person at that time.

At recent governing board meetings, SUSD voted to provide families with two choices for student learning when its 28 schools reopen.

• Full-time on campus: (after initial online distanced learning program – see Model A above) On an SUSD campus five days a week, with enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols. Following the June 19 Maricopa County regulation, face masks will be required of all students and staff while on campus. Face masks will also be required on all SUSD school buses.

• Full-time online: (referenced in chart) Online five days a week through SUSD’s fully accredited, age-appropriate, distance-learning program called Scottsdale Online Learning. SUSD’s state-certified teachers will lead classes. Parents can also choose the online platform Enhanced Distance Learning, which is taught by teachers from each school. 

Community feedback at the meetings included concerns about in-person versus online school, including grading policies and transportation and safety concerns.

Arcadia High’s new principal Dr. Cain Jagodzinski held multiple Zoom meetings in late July to address parents’ concerns and help clarify return-to-school options. Some policies are still being discussed.

“One of our goals is to find a medium between screen time so that kids aren’t staring at a screen for seven hours,” Dr. Jagodzinski said. “We want to make sure that kids have a routine. We want everyone to have more accountability and for teachers to have more opportunities to interact with the kids. Our goal is to make it as good as we can for the kids and have them ready to go when it’s time to get back on campus.”

Parents suggested a “back to school” video for parents and students so that they can become familiar with the two online learning platforms.

Parents, students and teachers will also have access to an online educational platform called Buzz. Dr. Jagodzinski explained that Buzz is like a blank canvas that teachers can continually update with homework, assignments and grades and can be used as a way to communicate with students. 

As for safety concerns, Dr. Jagodzinski explained that he and the board are hoping to get more guidance soon, as this is the most asked question when it comes to returning to school. He did mention that kids will be required to wear masks, and they are working on spacing desks between students, as well as putting up signage to remind students of these new protocols.

Lunchtime is also a concern. “We are still deciding what to do during lunch,” Dr. Jagodzinski said. They will need to decide whether the cafeteria will offer a grab-and-go option and if there will be air-conditioned places for kids to eat, he said. “It’s hard to get kids to stay apart; we have to re-learn these things and will do our best to educate ourselves and students on safety measures. Safety is our number one concern.” 

The board also decided that there should be a principal for the online learning models and chose Ingleside Middle School Principal Dr. Christopher Thuman as the district’s online learning programs’ interim principal. 

Another concern among parents and students is high school sports. The most recent Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board meeting detailed that sports will start and finish at their usual times with full safety modifications.  

According to the AIA, there will be an 8-10 game schedule for 2A-6A football. Games will start the week of September 7. The current playoff structure may have to be adjusted after input from schools. 1A football is currently looking at modifications, if necessary.

The remainder of fall sports will be adjusted slightly to ensure complete regular seasons. 

“As of today, falls sports are still on,” Arcadia High School Athletic Director Rudy Alvarado said. “There will be a few changes but we are confident that we can pull it off. We want to give our kids a chance to compete if they can.”

Estimated starting dates for competition:

• Golf – August 24

• Badminton – August 31

• All other fall sports – week of September 7

“We are in summer mode, which means our rules move to local school districts. Some are still practicing; some haven’t been – it’s a little all over the place,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said. “From what I understand, coaches [within SUSD] are still working with kids in some form or another.”

“At this point, we are dependent on when a school can go back to being in-person,” Hines said. “But the intent is that we have some fall sports.”

Hines explained that as the months progress, the reality is that high school sports will have a reduced schedule. “Even though we’re starting later, we could still have a nine or ten game football season,” he said.

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