Peoria Unified School District

Schools will be empty for a while, as the Peoria Unified School District plans to start the fall semester online, following Gov. Doug Ducey’s order.

Peoria Unified School District schools will start Aug. 5 as planned, and families eventually will have a choice between in-person and online schooling. Gov. Doug Ducey said students will not be permitted in classrooms until mid-August. 

After students are allowed to go back to schools, PUSD has a plan for students to be split into two groups to limit the number of students in classrooms.

New Superintendent Jason Reynolds, who took over the position upon Linda Palles Thompson’s July 1 retirement, provided details at the PUSD governing board retreat last week.

Reynolds said in accordance with Ducey’s executive order, the district will start out completely online.

“We believe that the opportunity to start all of our teachers and students in an online format will allow us to prepare for what could potentially be an extended online timeframe,” Reynolds said.

Teachers will be trained to move in and out of online schooling by the start of the school year, he explained. This will allow for the district to be flexible with changes.

Chief Operations Officer Shawn Duguid said the goal is to get students back in the classroom, but only with new health and safety procedures.

These include home health screenings, physical distancing when possible, hand cleaning, classroom disinfecting and the possibility of face coverings.

He noted Maricopa County has a mask mandate that the district must follow.

Duguid  said a student’s individual needs will be taken into consideration as the district understands all students are different and some may need to use other types of protection due to respiratory illnesses.

Staff will be provided with personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and other sanitization equipment to protect themselves and their students, said Dr. Carter Davidson, the district’s chief personnel officer.

Green, yellow, red

Lisa Alexander, the district’s lead nurse, went into more detail on how the district plans to keep students, staff and community healthy.

She said the district asks all parents and staff complete home checks for temperatures and symptoms before attending school. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees or higher and/or any signs of illness should stay home unless they have acquired a doctor’s note stating their symptoms are not contagious.

Alexander said students and staff should not come to schools if they are living with another person who may have been exposed to COVID-19 or has the virus. 

Students and staff should quarantine if they have possibly been exposed in any way, she stressed.

“Things have been and may continue to evolve, but when one of our students or employees don’t feel well during the day,” Alexander said. “The process for making sure the ill person is receiving safe care by our nurses has been finalized.”

Alexander said there will be three zones: green, yellow and red. 

Green zone means that everything is normal. Students can go visit the nurse and receive treatment as they always have. 

In the yellow zone, teachers call and warn the nurse if a student is coming. Once in the nurse’s office, sick students will be kept separated. 

If a sick student is found to have COVID-19 symptoms, the office goes into a red zone and no one but the sick student is allowed in the office until the student is picked up. 

 All schools are starting the year in the yellow zone.

Transportation

and classrooms

Duguid said new procedures will be in place for the schools transportation systems, athletics and other programs.

“Our transportation department has always and will continue to play a key role in the safety of our students,” he said.

Loading and unloading will be done in a more specific manner to keep the flow of traffic steady and avoid excess exposure between students, Duguid explained. 

The vehicles will be cleaned throughout the day and windows might be opened in order to increase air circulation.

After arriving at school, Duguid said  students will go directly to classrooms and hand sanitizer will be available.

When lunchtime rolls around, he said multipurpose rooms would be utilized to encourage physical distancing and the service lines will be moving to a “no-touch” system.

“Lunch tables will be separated and will face in one direction,” he said.

Times between student lunch hours will be used to disinfect before a new group of students arrive.

In classrooms, Duguid said desks will also be separated and all facing the same direction. In order to achieve physical distancing, any unnecessary furniture will be removed.

He said high-touch areas will be cleaned frequently and between any changing of classrooms. And the use of shared devices will be minimized as much as possible.

Duguid also said all students will be encouraged to bring a refillable water bottle to school because campus water fountains will be shut down. All schools will have water bottle fillers installed if they don’t already have them.

Pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students will stay in their classrooms throughout the day. Special area classes such as music will either come to the students or students may still be permitted to go to them, Duguid said. 

“As a sight level administrator for 13 years, I understand the importance of hosting schoolwide events on our campuses,” he said. 

“We will make every effort to continue events such as meet the teacher, open house, curriculum nights and school assemblies, and any club activities virtually.”

Coaches in masks

As for athletic programs, coaches will be wearing masks if they are in close contact with the athletes and all athletes will have their temperature taken before being allowed to participate, Duguid said.

Locker rooms will be monitored and have new schedules to reduce the number of students in them at once he said.

“As with any of our students, any athlete that shows physical signs of illness will be seen by a trainer or nurse to be assessed,” he said. “We are closely following directions from the Arizona Interscholastic Association regarding our fall sports seasons.”

Since schools will be returning in an online setting, Duguid said the district understands that social and emotional needs of the students will be important to meet.

Teachers are being trained in how to better accomplish this in the online setting for the fall, he said. And the student support line that was set up after school closures in March will continue.

Students can call 623-412-5262 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for support.

Preschool settings will look very similar to any other classroom in the district with constant disinfecting of high-touch surfaces and students washing their hands upon entering and exiting, he explained.

More details on this will be provided by individual principals when school opening gets closer, he said.

Play to continue

It has been recognized that play is an important part of the day for students, Duguid explained. That being said, playgrounds will be open with frequent disinfecting.

He said students will attend recess with their classes, and times between recess will be staggered to allow for physical distancing.

Duguid said before- and after-school care will still be available and will “mimic what a typical classroom is,” and siblings will be placed in the same groups. 

As with their school day classes, students will be asked to wash their hands upon entering and exiting, and physical distancing will be adhered to when possible.

Students will be divided in two groups, Duguid said. 

Group A would attend school on Monday and Tuesday, and Group B would attend school on Thursday and Friday. 

When students are not physically in schools, they will be in online learning.

Schools will be deep cleaned and disinfected on Wednesdays when all students are online, Duguid said.

With Ducey’s most recent executive order, this plan gets a little complicated, Duguid said. Students would still have to be allowed to go to campus even on the days they are not physically in classes, which makes limiting exposure a little harder.

Duguid said the district will continue to adjust plans in accordance with state regulations. Any changes will be communicated with parents as soon as they are available.