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WUSD schools to remain open despite COVID cases

The Williams Unified School District office building. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

The Williams Unified School District office building. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — The Williams Unified School District Governing Board heard from dozens of parents and teachers Nov. 10 regarding the recent cases of COVID-19 at the schools.

The board met in an emergency meeting Nov. 8, and then held another meeting Nov. 10 to hear from the community.

The district has remained open for in-person classes following the report of four COVID-19 positive students and two staff members the previous week.

Of the approximately two dozen parents who attended the meeting in person or through Zoom, it appeared most supported the district keeping the schools open.

“My son doesn’t do well online,” said parent Susie Daly, “Our kids have suffered through this, they respect it. You guys have required the mask mandates, the social distancing — they are doing it. Let them be kids.”

“My kids, I see a difference in them,” said parent Amber-Rose Michelena. “If I’m working all day and (my son) is at home, I have to make sure he’s doing his online work, it’s so stressful. It’s really hard for me to think about my kids not being taught at school where I know they’re being taken care of by the teachers.”

A few students also spoke up through Zoom giving their support for keeping the schools open.

“As a student, being in school and being in class — it’s a good opportunity,” said Williams High School student Lexi Sandoval. “It’s a good way of learning, way better than online. If I were to go online, I wouldn’t have that much help. It’s hard to learn from video, but when I have a teacher in class helping me, that helps a lot more."

However, several teachers and administrators spoke in support of returning to remote learning.

“I’ve had COVID before,” said teacher Monica Moreno. “This was when we were on break and I am now at home because I came into contact with someone in the district that had COVID. I now have to rely on a sub to teach my class because I am home with this illness that almost killed me the first time. This disease, this illness, is serious. It hurts a lot of people. I want this community to think about the staff that work here and what our needs are, and our needs at home for those we care for and the students we care for too.”

WUSD Superintendent Rick Honsinger spoke to the board in support of the district staff, relaying some of their concerns.

“We want the best for the kids and know the best thing for learning is to be in school,” he said.

Honsinger said the district is attempting to keep regular communication with parents about the COVID modifications and the recent positive cases. He said families continue to have the option of remote learning.

“The staff doesn’t have those options right now, though,” Honsinger said. “They are concerned about their health right now. You can hear some of them speak tonight, some won’t speak and just brave it and keep on going. We have anxiety, the staff was already worried, but this week it has come into the school.”

The WUSD Governing Board discussed the possibility of closing the school for two weeks and switching back to online learning.

However, several board members spoke in opposition to the idea.

“I think 90 percent of the kids do terrible learning online,” said governing board member Herman Nixon. “If we close for two weeks and then come back, there will be two more kids that have this. Do we just close again? I’m not in favor of going online, they need to stay in school, we need to take care of these kids.”

“If we take the kids out of the school today, we are giving them two and a half weeks to interact with their friends out on the street,” said governing board member Leah Payne. “We are giving them two and half weeks to go out of town. I just feel they have a stronger chance of getting infected out on the streets than they do in the school.”

Former biology teacher and board member Mike Fleischman was the lone voice to speak against returning to in-person classes.

“The bottom line is that the coronavirus is here, and I’m not trying to put fear into the hearts of everyone here,” he said. “If we walk out of here tonight and do nothing other than say we are going to be a little more careful, we are going to be back here again. We’re going to lose teaching staff to illness and the number of kids are going to continue to be positive.”

Following almost two hours of discussion and hearing from the community, the governing board voted 4-1 to keep WUSD open for in-person learning.

Arizona schools respond to COVID

Arizona reported 2,806 new COVID-19 cases Nov. 9 as the deepening coronavirus outbreak prompted varying responses by school districts across the state.

Coronavirus cases have been rising since mid-September where daily cases counts hovered around 500. However, the Nov. 9 data is still below the peak of 5,450, which was June 29.

As cases continue to rise, the state has provided school districts with county-by-county voluntary benchmarks to consider when deciding whether to open or close schools.

The benchmarks, which were updated Nov. 12 and show worsening conditions in many areas recently, are based on numbers of COVID-19 cases, testing positivity and hospital visits for COVID-like illness.

Heritage Charter School in Williams began the year with remote learning and returned to school in a hybrid method.

“We have been hybrid since the start of the second quarter,” said Heritage School principal Kaytie Dannenberger. “The first quarter was all distance learning, and now we are in-person or distance learning depending on what the parent feels is best for their child, which we understand could change as well. Our goal is to remain flexible to the needs of our community.”

Thirty-six COVID-19 positives have been reported at Camp Verde Unified since school reopened Aug. 17.

Because of several COVID-19 positives in its athletic department, the school recently canceled the remainder of its football and volleyball seasons.

But there’s been no talk of going from in-person learning to hybrid or strictly with online learning, according to Camp Verde Superintendent Danny Howe

Flagstaff Unified School District decided this week to remain in remote learning until January, as cases jumped to 351 per 100,000 from 220 the week before.

Prescott Unified School District will postpone its planned expansion on Nov. 16 of hybrid learning for grades 5 to 12 to three days a week from two, Superintendent Joe Howard told The Daily Courier.

“This is a lose-lose,” Howard said of options that involve optimal learning with student and staff health and safety. “Our eyes are always on doing what is the best thing for kids. Always.”

The Kingman Unified School District’s board decided Nov. 10 to keep schools fully open, The Daily Miner reported.

Superintendent Gretchen Dorner said that in-person instruction is “a more successful model than the online model.”

Dorner said many employees choose to get tested and that students with fevers are being detected at the door and sent home to quarantine.

“Many efforts are working,” Dorner said. “But we can’t take our eyes off it.”

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