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Flagstaff, other Arizona schools return to in-person classes

(Flagstaff High School/photo)

(Flagstaff High School/photo)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — With COVID-19 cases dropping and many teachers getting vaccinated, some Arizona school districts have started the return to in-person learning.

Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD), which has been doing virtual learning full-time since the start of the school year in August, will begin a phased reopening March 22.

The FUSD Governing Board also amended the thresholds of the COVID-19 benchmarks it monitors to align with the current Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). The previous benchmarks classified cases as substantial if there were 75 cases or more per 100,000, and a percent positivity above 5 percent. The new substantial category benchmarks are now 100 cases or more per 100,000 and percent positivity at 10 percent.

In-person learning at FUSD will be provided five days per week with teacher’s delivering instruction to students both in-person and online simultaneously.

Students returning to in-person learning will be required to follow mitigation strategies while at school including being free of COVID-19 symptoms, quarantining if having close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, wearing a face mask, and maintaining appropriate physical distancing.

Families will be sent an acknowledgement form to sign which outlines these safety expectations and a consent form for optional onsite COVID-19 testing prior to the first day of in-person learning.

On Feb 24, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman promised to help school districts across the state safely transition back to in-person learning. But that would likely not look the same as before. The state wants to make sure mitigation measures such as plexiglass between desks and up-to-date ventilation systems are in place, Hoffman said.

A return to campus would look more like a patchwork around the state. Some schools, such as those on the Navajo Nation, have already declared they will not be resuming in-person instruction because of the virus’ devastating impact, Hoffman said.

“I want to support schools at every stage, so that when they do resume in-person learning, they are doing so safely with mitigation strategies in place, enforced, and with the support of their families, students, and teachers,” Hoffman said.

Dr. Jason Vargas, president of the Arizona chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said there is more scientific evidence that children are not the main source of community transmission of the virus. For districts that are ready, he believes a return to school can be done safely.

“For children without significant health problems and with proper mitigation strategies, the risk is relatively low,” Vargas said.

Terry Tang of the Associated Press contributed to this story

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