Ironwood High School

Like other schools in the Peoria Unified School District, Ironwood High School has required students and staff to wear masks. Even so, the district is “pausing” classes on Ironwood’s campus after a number of COVID-19 cases. 

After numerous COVID-19 cases reported among Ironwood High School students, in-person learning at the Glendale campus is on hold. Ironwood students will learn online until Feb. 10.

Meanwhile, a board meeting last week set the stage for potential permanent closures of multiple Glendale schools.

Due to falling enrollment, the Glendale Elementary School District Governing Board outlined proposed closures of five of the district’s 17 schools in two phases.

The first phase would close Melvin E. Sine and Isaac E. Imes schools before the 2021-22 school year, with Coyote Ridge, Desert Garden and Bicentennial North potentially closing the following school year.

Facing an $11 million-plus budget deficit, “GESD will ensure financial solvency by providing the community a multi-year process of reorganizing boundaries and repurposing schools by June 2021,” according to a presentation at the Jan. 28 meeting.

The board is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4. The main agenda item: “Timelines for Boundary Changes/School Closures/Repurposing.”

Board meetings are held at the District Office located at 7301 N. 58th Avenue.

Comments can be emailed to calltopublic@gesd40.org until noon on the day of the meeting. Comments will be read into the record during the Call to the Public section of the meeting.

To listen to the Board meeting by telephone, call 602-666-0783 or 408-418-9388 and enter access code 960 622 628.

GESD board meetings are also scheduled for Feb. 11 and 25.

The hottest topic of meetings over the next month is sure to be school “repurposing,” which often translates to “closure.”

The reason for potential permanent closure of Glendale elementary schools is a lack of overall growth, with individual school enrollment falling.

According to a presentation at the Jan. 28 meeting, GESD total enrollment in 1995 was 10,424, with 13 schools in the district.

This year, enrollment is slightly less at 10,326 - even though the district has four more schools than it did 25 years ago.

And, according to the presentation, “Enrollment in nine of GESD’s 17 school site attendance areas is projected to decline by 10% or more by 2024/25.”

Ironwood High

While the GESD school closures are potentially permanent, the closure of Ironwood High classrooms in the Peoria Unified School District is temporary.

“Last week we shared that we have been closely monitoring Ironwood’s health data to make sure it is still safe to offer in-person learning. Based on the health and operational status of our campus, we have determined that we need to pause in-person learning, athletics, COOP, ARISE and extracurricular activities on (Ironwood’s) campus, until Wednesday, Feb. 10,” Superintendent Dr. Jason Reynolds said, in a Jan. 29 letter to families.

“Through this temporary change to our learning model, all students will be learning virtually from Feb. 1 through 9. This is supported by Maricopa County Department of Public Health as it covers the incubation period from the last date of exposure on our campus.”

According to PUSD’s COVID-19 tracking, 10 students and three staff members tested positive for COVID-19 Jan. 25-29.

Sunrise Mountain had 15 students test positive during the same period, but is not closing classrooms.

Liberty High classrooms also remain open, despite nine students and two staff members testing positive last week.

During the previous week of Jan. 18-22, Ironwood and Liberty each had 11 students test positive; Sunrise Mountain had seven students test positive that week.

Centennial High had 14 students and three staff members with positive tests Jan. 18-22. The total COVID-19 cases at Centennial fell to seven Jan. 25-29.

Danielle Airey, a PUSD spokeswoman, noted “we look at multiple factors” when considering temporary school closure.

“If Sunrise or Liberty hit any of the metrics, we will most definitely be reviewing all their data,” she added.

Throughout PUSD, 107 students and 27 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

The district has more than 35,000 students. Most recently, 27,215 were attending classes in classrooms, with 8,245 choosing to take virtual classes online.

According to the Maricopa County “school metrics” website, data updated Jan. 28 showed the PUSD communities with a slight drop in COVID-19 spread, falling from over 1,000 new cases per 100,000 population to 775 cases per 100,000. The percentage of positive tests also had a slight drop.

In his letter announcing the temporary closure of Ironwood classrooms, Reynolds stressed, “This decision was made using the framework and process that was shared with our governing board ... This process took us through an extensive review of our school’s metrics.

“Our team did not arrive at this decision lightly,” Reynolds added. “Last week we increased our mitigation procedures, temporarily paused programs and quarantined students when cases were reported. We now feel it is in the best interest of student and staff safety to take this added precautionary measure.”

During the temporary classroom closures at Ironwood, “We will also have limited space available for on-site support for students who need a safe place to complete their online learning,” Reynolds noted.

And lunches will be available for drive-thru or curbside service at Ironwood.

The PUSD superintendent urged Ironwood staff and students to “remain vigilant when they are not on campus – not attending large gatherings with others, wearing masks, frequently washing hands and taking all necessary measures to prevent the spread of COVID. If these actions are not taken during this time, we could see an increase in cases upon our return rather than a decrease. The safety habits of our staff and community are paramount right now if we want our students to return to school.”

At its Dec. 10 meeting, PUSD governing board voted unanimously to keep classrooms open after winter break “regardless of the benchmark data.”

The district closed 13 PUSD schools Jan. 11 after a teacher “sick out.”

At a January PUSD board meeting, Reynolds gave a presentation on “factors to adjust the learning model within a classroom, grade level, or school.” He highlighted:

• Community spread.

• Cases identified, weekly percent positivity and outbreaks determined by the county.

• Social, emotional and academic growth.

• Classrooms impacted.

• Percent absenteeism.

• Model of instruction and mitigation strategies.

Deer Valley Unified School District continues to allow students to learn on campus. Students returned to Deer Valley classrooms in mid-January.

While Peoria Unified and Deer Valley school districts are giving students the option of online or in-classroom learning, Glendale Elementary School District is keeping its classrooms closed.

On Thursday, Jan. 28, after Maricopa County updated its school metrics site,

GESD Superintendent Cindy Segotta-Jones posted a message notifying families district classrooms would remain closed.

Despite slight improvement over the previous week, “The spread of COVID-19 remains at a substantial level in our area. With all three indicators still in the red, GESD remains in the virtual learning model.”

For more information, visit gesd40.org.

Glendale Union High School District also is keeping classrooms closed with online learning only.

Similar to GESD, numbers at GUHSD showed improvement last week, though the high school district also remains “in the red” in all three of Maricopa County’s benchmark categories.

This week, a GUHSD task force “will look at current metrics, review prior recommendations and discuss the current advice of health agencies regarding how to reopen schools safely,” according to a GUHSD post.

Contact Tom Scanlon at tscanlon@timespublications.com.