MPS vows reopened classrooms Jan. 19 for ‘most’ students The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

MPS vows reopened classrooms Jan. 19 for ‘most’ students

December 14th, 2020 Mesa Tribune Staff
MPS vows reopened classrooms Jan. 19 for ‘most’ students
Mesa
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BY PAUL MARYNIAK
Tribune Executive Editor

Mesa Public Schools’ reopening for in-person learning Jan. 19 will be made on a classroom-by-classroom and school-by-school basis governed by data showing COVID-19 spread.

During the governing board’s final meeting of the calendar year last week, officials vowed that the majority of students will be able to return to campuses that date following two weeks of at-home learning that begins after winter break on Jan. 3.

Board member Jenny Richardson said virtual learning for the first two weeks of January made sense so that the district could rebuild its data base of infected students and staff since those cases will not be tracked during the two-week holiday period.

Rebuilding that data base will be helped by teachers actually taking attendance during online classes rather than relying on checking what students have been using the district’s online learning platform, called Canvas.

“This two-week pause – while not ideal and not perfect in any way – is what we need to do as a district,” said Richardson. “And then on the 19th, we will open school five days a week based on the data that we’ve collected. It’s not another replay of the August situation – we’ve stated that clearly here tonight.

“And I will reiterate that on Jan. 19, we will open based on the metrics that we have…We will make decisions classroom by classroom, school by school.”

The clarification of the district’s approach to reopening classrooms – which remain open until winter break begins this Friday – came amid indications of surging virus spread across Mesa and the state.

The board met two days before the county released its latest data for virus spread – which showed a continuing upward trend for COVID-19 cases.

At the time the board met, the latest data showed two of the three benchmarks for virus spread were in the substantial category for the week of Dec. 3.

District-wide, there were 432 cases per 100,000 people – more than three times the level recorded just a month ago – while positive new tests were at 13.85 percent. Hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms, which had been in the minimal spread category for months, were into the moderate spread category at 7.7 percent.

Two days after the board’s meeting, the county released data for the week of Dec. 11 and that showed higher numbers. Cases per 100,000 had risen to 443 and positive test results were at 15.9 percent. Hospital visits also rose to just under the substantial spread level.

Board member Kiana Maria Sears stressed that while schools are not the cause of that increased spread, they are impacted by what people do outside them.

“As I watched the numbers rise, it’s no paranoia,” Sears said. “It’s about what should we do when we’re not in school.”

The district’s latest dashboard data showed little change in the number of students and staff who have been infected, with 123 student and 106 adult COVID-19 cases.

Despite the assurances made by officials, children and adults continued to beg the board at last week’s meeting to keep classrooms open. Parents and children – including two families – described the impact of online learning on grades and their social-emotional well-being.

Jodi Smith talked about her second-grade daughter’s effort to learn to read.

“Virtual learning is a complete horror,” she said, adding that after four or five weeks of being in a classroom, her daughter’s reading “went up four or five levels.”

Citing the plan to keep campuses closed the first two weeks of January, Smith added, “I know the first two weeks are going to be absolute hell.”

Kindergartner Ivy Ward told the board, “I’m happy at school and I feel safe at school. I’m happy at school and I feel safe. I feel safe at school.”

Another student, Kaitlyn Ward, said, “I feel very bored at home sitting on a computer screen and I don’t get why they make it so they force people to go online.”

Mya Ward, a sophomore at Mountain View High School, said “I feel safer at school than I did at my house. My mental health is going down.

“I hated school until it was taken away from me,” Mya continued. “I hated it and now I love school and I want to stay. I was a straight-A student last year and this year, I was failing five classes. If you’re going to tell me that remote learning works – can you please explain that to me?

“Can you explain how I’m supposed to learn graphic design over a computer? Can you explain to me how I’m supposed to learn how to speak another language? I’m supposed to speak Spanish over a computer and the audio doesn’t even work half the time. I’m going to say it again: my high school career will never be – and is never replaceable by – a computer screen.”

Her mother also spoke.

“I fear our children will, much like spring, be locked out and alienated for the balance of the school year,” said Lisa Ward. “Please rethink the virtual start.”

Hale Elementary fifth grade Miles Austin and his parents also addressed the board individually.

“I can’t really do that well on a computer screen,” Miles said. “The audio doesn’t work half the time. People are always stressed and yelling. It’s better at school.”

His mother, Heather Austin, who has three sons at Hale, asked, “Why are we still arguing about being around little children when they have been proven the safest to be around during the pandemic?”

Her husband Jared Austin gave a heart-rending statement about how online learning has “crushed” one of his son’s motivation and spirit.

“It just crushed his little spirit, willingness to learn and his desire to learn,” he said. “It just crushed it. And so now even though he’s back in school, he hates going to school. He’s just lost that and the only way that he’s going to gain that is by the trust of a teacher that interacts one on one. Please keep our kids in school. Don’t go back online.”

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