Most Mesa students can return to classrooms fulltime The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Most Mesa students can return to classrooms fulltime

January 17th, 2021 Mesa Tribune Staff
Most Mesa students can return to classrooms fulltime

Tribune Executive Editor

Students at all but seven Mesa Public Schools campuses will be allowed to return to classrooms in some fashion starting Tuesday as COVID-19 cases continued to rise across the district.

But students at four elementary campuses, two junior high and one high school will be learning from home while students at four other high schools will be allowed on campus only two days a week, divided alphabetically into two groups.

Those decisions were made after what the district called a “complex process” involving “many data points, including patterns and stories behind each positive case.”

The district’s announcement Thursday followed the county health department’s release of data showing all three metrics measuring virus spread continued rising during the last week of December as holiday gatherings began taking their toll.

District-wide, the data showed, cases per 100,000 leaped from 520 to 867 while positive new test results jumped from 18.7 to 23.6 percent and the percentage of hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms ticked up to 14.5 percent. Those numbers were the highest yet since the school year began.

Individual Mesa ZIP code levels were generally in the same neighborhood, although 85202 registered a staggering 1,270 cases per 100,000 – one of the highest readings among all East Valley ZIP codes.

The district’s own dashboard of reported COVID-19 cases among its campuses, however, showed that out of 67,000 students and staff, there were 257 active cases – 152 students and 105 adults.

But it was where those cases were located that impacted the decisions on how students would learn, possibly for the rest of the month.

High schools accounted for 86 cases, although the district does not break down students vs. adults, and they are being hit the hardest by the district’s campus-by-campus approach to determining the safest learning mode for kids.

Mountain View, whose 20 cases were the highest among all MPS campuses, will be in a fully virtual learning mode while four other high schools will be using the hybrid model because their active reported cases ranged between 14 and 17. Only Skyline High students can be in classrooms five days a week; it reported only four cases.

Most junior high students will be able to be on campus five days a week except at Taylor and Kino, which reported eight and six cases, respectively. Those students will be in hybrid learning.

Four elementary schools – Adams, Edison, MacArthur and Red Mountain Ranch – are closed while students at all other elementary campuses can attend five days a week.

As the newly reconstituted Governing Board held its first meeting, it confronted the same challenge its predecessor faced most of last year: imploring the community to follow safety protocols like social distancing and wearing masks in order to have kids in classrooms.

“We need to see folks doing the mitigation strategies both in school and away from school in order to get this curve to go the other way,” Associate Superintendent Holly Williams told the board at the Jan. 12 meeting.

That meeting came the day after Gov. Doug Ducey, in his annual State of the State address, said he will not provide any additional cash to public schools with fewer children in classrooms due to the pandemic. Instead, the governor said he wants to get students “back where they belong.’’

“With every public health professional, from Dr. Fauci and the CDC on down, saying that the safest place for kids to be is in schools, we will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,’’ he said. “Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.’’

After the speech, press aide C.J. Karamargin said his boss is not considering cutting off funds to schools that instruct students either in whole or in part online. He said Ducey supports virtual options for parents who want them.

“When he references not funding ‘empty seats,’ he simply means that for parents who have chosen a new option for their kids, the money will follow that student to their new public school,’’ Karamargin said, options that include other traditional districts as well as charter schools.

Although there was no mention of Ducey’s address at the board meeting, the impact of campus closures has already hit the district. The district lost more than $20 million in per pupil reimbursement from the state because of a yet undisclosed enrollment loss. Earlier estimates in the fall put that loss at more than 3,500 students.

Administration officials told the board last month that the district could lose more money, forcing it to consider program and payroll cuts to balance its budget.

Williams said the administration is surveying teachers to find out, among other things, how many have signed up for COVID-19 vaccinations since teachers are now in a high-priority category for getting the shots.

The impact of the pandemic’s disruption of student’s school routines and social lives was brought home during a presentation on social-emotional health by Dr. Michael Garcia, director of opportunity and achievement.

New board member Lara Salmon Ellingson told him that she had received an email from “a student who is very upset about virtual school and mentioned that he’s considered taking his life.”

“So I understand that he’s probably not alone and so what do we have in place right now and what can we suggest to our students or parents who are seeing this sign in their children or teachers who are seeing this sign?” Ellingson asked.

Garcia replied, “I would say the most important first step if they want help is to reach out to us, reach out to the school counselor, reach out to the district, our department even and we can talk to them and make sure that we can assess the situation and match them up with the most appropriate resources. We have lots of community resources.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.