Mesa mom’s open-campuses drive gains support The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa mom’s open-campuses drive gains support

Mesa mom’s open-campuses drive gains support
Mesa
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By Zach Alvira
Tribune Staff Writer

A Mesa mother’s petition voicing concern over delaying the opening of Arizona campuses is gaining traction.

Laura Crandell launched the petition drive after Gov. Doug Ducey delayed in-classroom learning until at least Aug. 17 due to the surge in coronavirus cases in the state.

Crandell, whose 5-year-old daughter is set to attend Sousa Elementary School in the fall, believes parents should be able to decide whether or not to send their kids to schools without any further delays.

“I understand COVID is a concern for all of us,” Crandell said. “But I feel like the decisions that are being made are out of an abundance of fear. Anyone who has been around kids knows they are going to benefit from being in person.”

Nearly 1,500 people have signed Crandell’s petition to Ducey as of Wednesday at change.org/p/governor-doug-ducey-no-more-postponement-of-az-in-person-learning-school-start-date.

Crandell said delaying the opening of schools could negatively affect work schedules for both parents and teachers. Luckily, she already works from home on a consistent basis and is able to keep an eye on her daughter in a limited fashion.

However, she said she has many friends who work outside the home and who struggled in the spring to make online schooling work.

“I don’t understand how people are supposed to make this happen and it creates a disparity between low and high-income families,” Crandell said. “If you are in a comfortable situation financially, you likely have resources available to make this work. But if you aren’t, it could create a disparity in the education they kids are receiving.”

Crandell, who is a local youth leader for teenage girls through church, highlighted in her petition many of the concerns she heard from her group about online learning in the final quarter of last school year.

From mental health concerns – including depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation– to the quality of online lessons, Crandell said it was enough for her to advocate for reopening campuses.

“My petition is not to open schools and let us all in,” Crandell said. “It’s asking whether or not there are enough teachers and students that feel comfortable being in schools and if there are, is the expectation that we could go to schools even if it isn’t at max capacity.”

Crandell isn’t alone in her fight to reopen schools.

President Donald Trump and his administration ramped up their campaign to “pressure” governors to reopen schools in the fall.

“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open,” Trump said, adding that once schools are open, they would not be closed again.

While it is not yet clear how Ducey will respond to the Trump effort, he said that while in-person learning is delayed until Aug. 17, there’s no reason online learning can begin sooner.

According to a letter to parents on Thursday, July 2, Mesa Public Schools will do just that.

The district announced all students would begin remote learning on Aug. 4, the original start date for the new school year.

Mesa Superintendent Dr. Andi Fourlis said during a Governing Board study session July 1 that the district would allow students to transition to in-person learning when schools are given the go-ahead to open their doors.

“Knowing what we know today, we are recommending we begin remote instruction on Aug. 4, the regular first day of school,” Fourlis said. “We also know making a decision like that requires a lot of planning and a lot of details. We are anxious to share with all of you how we collaborate on these conversations to guide our path forward.”

Fourlis acknowledged the outcry from parents expressing their discontent with remote learning last spring.

That feedback, along with more from online sessions in June where students, parents and staff were surveyed about different options for students to resume school, helped the district come up with three options for the 2020-21 school year: full-time remote learning, full-time in-person learning and a combination of the two.

Now, however, those plans may undergo modifications.

Fourlis said it’s possible the district will bring a limited number of students back to schools when Ducey’s executive order expires, followed by more until a full in-person setting can be achieved. 

“We anticipate when we move to an in-person model we would be very strategic and only bring back students based on very specific needs,” Fourlis said, adding the first group would likely be special-needs students. those who require modified-learning environments and preschoolers.

“All the while, we would always have an option for remote learning environment,” she said.

Online learning to start the new school year, she added, will have several improvements over last spring’s.

Daily attendance will be taken. Additionally, teachers will be made available for students to interact with in a variety of different ways. The district also implemented a new online curriculum for elementary students as well as more training for teachers. Special-needs students will receive instruction specially designed to fit their needs.

But obstacles remain even for all-online learning in Mesa.

At least 7,000 students are currently without devices. David Sanders, the district’s chief technology officer, said he and his team are currently conducting an inventory on devices.

Initially, the district had planned to refresh devices in two high schools and seven junior high schools.

Now, Sanders believes the project at the high schools will be paused in order to potentially have enough for all students. Part of that decision stems from most high school students already having devices.

Even then, however, the challenge of loading adequate software and distributing them by Aug. 4 remains.

“We might have enough for every student K-6, key word ‘might,’” Sanders said. “The dilemma is prepping and distributing the 45,000 devices we might have to distribute. To say that I’m confident we will be able to prep and distribute 45,000 devices by Aug. 4 would be a fib. I’m not saying we can’t distribute that many but I’m not 100 percent confident that we can. I think we can get really close.”

Thanks to a $7 million city grant, the district will be obtaining new devices for students. However, those are not expected to arrive until September and not be prepped and ready for distribution until October.

Helen Hollands, Mesa’s executive director of technology and communication, said the district may resort to distributing devices for K-6 students in a limited manner, noting if families have more than one elementary student only one device will be provided until more become available.

“We would also probably prioritize from grades down, making sure our high schoolers and junior high kiddos get those and then to the elementary schools,” Hollands said. “We would love to do it all at the same time but if we need to do that type of prioritization, we may do a grade band prioritization as well.”

The district expects to solidify its plans for the upcoming fall semester during its July 14 governing board meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. The meeting can be viewed at mpsaz.org/live. 

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