Students at Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools – as well as other Tempe Union campuses – will be able to go to class five days a week after the district made a surprise announcement Monday and added a third option for the new school year.
“We have been gathering communication from many of you around the reopening of our schools. The diversity of thoughts and concerns expressed by you, not surprisingly, also reflects the diversity we celebrate in our district. Information has been changing daily if not hourly,” Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil told parents in a letter on June 29 - hours before Gov. Doug Ducey delayed the start of ian in-class school year until Aug. 17, a week later than Mendivil originally considered and two weeks later than the district's original start date for the new school year..
In the letter, Mendivil said parents will be able to choose from three options by July 13: all online, all-classroom and a hybrid.
The announcement comes less than a week after about 200 parents and students gathered outside the district headquarters June 24 as Governing Board members were heading to a special study session on school resource officers.
Organizers had planned another protest prior to the board’s 7 p.m. meeting July 1.
But Mendivil said the district’s change of heart was the result of Gov. Doug Ducey’s announcement on June 25 that school districts would not be penalized financially for students whose parents did not want them to attend campuses amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.
“Throughout the planning process, we have read your emails and listened to your concerns,” Mendivil wrote parents, adding:
“The reopening proposal presented 12 days ago was based on information that is now unusable. Information regarding the status of COVID-19 in our state changes every day, and in many instances by the hour. The need to be flexible during these times is evident now more than ever.”
He also said that if schools were forced to close as they were in March, students in who opted for the in-person model would simply shift to distance learning as they did for the last quarter of the just-concluded school year.
Mendivil said he would schedule a virtual town hall for parents “how to keep our students safe with an in-person learning option.”
Students will likely be required to wear facemasks on campus, since Mendivil had already announced that requirement would be in force in even the one-day-a-week in-person format. That falls in line with Mesa Public Schools, which also will require face masks.
“Please know that at every point these past months in planning, district and site leadership have put the health and safety of your child first and foremost,” Mendivil wrote parents.
“Information and conditions surrounding this unprecedented pandemic have been changing rapidly and will continue to change. We will continue to keep you informed as we release additional information for the fall.”
Other nearby districts, including Chandler Unified, Mesa Public Schools and Gilbert Public Schools, also are offering three options.
But the in-class experience will still be radically different from what it was before March, since many assemblies, pep rallies and other gatherings will likely either be postponed until social-distancing requirements are eased or they will be held virtually.
Field trips won’t resume initially and when they will be allowed will almost certainly depend on the pandemic.
Around 200 parents and students braved the scorching sun June 24 to protest the absence of a five-day in-class option.
At least some Governing Board members were feeling the heat from the community’s reaction.
Toward the end of the SRO study session on June 24, member Andres Barraza asked for a study session on reopening, claiming “there was a lot of misinformation in the community” about the duration of the one-day option.
But the demonstrating parents and students weren’t reacting to whatever “misinformation” Barraza was referring to.
They were aiming their protest directly at the options they had been given last month and many carried that read: “One day is not enough.”
Among those who turned out to protest was Kyrene Governing Board President Michael Myrick, who has a son in Corona del Sol High School.
Myrick said the reopening plan has prompted him to run for the Tempe Union Governing Board now that his Kyrene term will be ending in December.
“After this incident, this board needs a lot of work and a lot of help,” said Myrick.
The deadline for filing petitions to get on the Nov. 3 ballot for school board races is next Monday.
The Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools website shows seven candidates have filed statements of interest in the Tempe Union race, but none has been filed by Myrick. Statements of interest are required before candidates can secure signatures on their ballot petitions.
So far, board President Berdetta Hodge is the only candidate to file her petitions. One of the other six who have filed a statement of interest is incumbent and longtime board member Sandra Lowe of Tempe.
Parents expressed anger over Mendivil’s plan, which he said was necessary to protect the health of both students and staff amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Under the one-day-in-class option, no entire class of students would ever have been on any of Tempe Union’s seven campuses at one time. Instead, they would each be assigned a particular day when they can attend class in person.
“I think people are fed up with some of the stuff that's happening, in some of the decisions that are being made,” Myrick said of the Tempe Union board. “And they're not listening to the community.”
That statement was echoed by many of the parents who turned out for the protest.
“We just want options for all of the students,” said a mother of three sons who attend the Corona del Sol. “Most of the districts that have announced are giving several options to families – the online-only, the hybrid model or full-time in person and we just want to be given that choice as well.”
Asked if she was concerned about COVID-19 affecting her sons, she replied, “What the numbers show me is that kids our children’s ages run a much smaller risk of having serious complications. So, I’m way less concerned about the virus than I am about their mental health.”
Added her husband, “They have other ways to implement safety measures – masks, social distancing. We’re not against any of that. We’re not trying to make this a protest about who loves our kids more when it comes to health and safety because we’re all right there. One day a week is not an option that’s acceptable to the community.”
Several parents blamed the school board for not insisting that the administration create a five-day option, and one called it “a lazy answer and a poor reflection on the board.”
Parents said they believe the district provides a quality education, though some criticized the quality of online courses provided after the emergency closure of campuses in March.
Kristin Blanchard said her daughter, a rising sophomore at Desert Vista, was “devastated” by the lack of a five-day option in classrooms.
“High school is all about the connections and interactions,” Blanchard said, calling distance learning “isolating and defeatist.”
“We’re hopeful they’ll do the hard work and go back to the drawing board,” she added. Otherwise, she said, she and her daughter will be “forced to look at other places.”