Nogales Schools Plan to Remain Online as County Fails Reopen Guidelines

Photo by Matt Ragland

By Alicia Barrón

August 11, 2020

Every Arizona county fails to meet the state’s reopening benchmarks.

Arizona’s schools began online learning last week, with guidelines on when schools can reopen classrooms for in-person learning made available last Thursday. But some educators say that they’ll be sticking to virtual classrooms for the foreseeable future.

Despite the continued spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order in late July requiring school districts offer in-person learning by Aug. 17. Exceptions to this requirement were part of last week’s released guidelines, and so far, no school in the state qualifies to reopen classrooms next week.

Like most schools in the state, Nogales schools have shifted to an online teaching model. State officials closed public schools in March in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

Many districts have already created their own reopening guidelines, some of which could become obsolete if they contradict the state’s criteria. In Nogales, district leaders developed a comprehensive Reopening of Schools Plan that lays out what parents and students can expect for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. 

Nogales School District Superintendent Fernando Parra tells The Copper Courier that, in alignment with Ducey’s order, the district plans to offer in-person learning after August 17 — depending on the data and how Santa Cruz County is doing in terms of COVID-19 infections. 

“As you know, right now it is at 25.4% positivity rate,” Parra explained. “We are also looking at the possibility of asking for a waiver if things do not improve to continue with online instruction until the data changes.”

School administrators in Nogales are also considering sending out waivers and/or notices to parents in the school district regarding the essential risk when students return to in-person school. 

Although those waivers or notices would require a parent’s signature, Parra tells us, “This has not been sent or decided at this time.” 

NUSD has put safeguards in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students, like requiring all social distancing and hygiene guidelines. Schools also require that protective face coverings be worn at all times.

According to Parra, classroom spacing will be adjusted as well. To limit the number of people in a classroom, schools have been recommended to use a hybrid model of instruction, with only small groups of students and staff in school buildings at any given time. 

NUSD is offering a variety of flexible options so students can safely resume their education. As Parra explains:

“All the procedures and steps are in the plan. We are also giving students and parents the option to stay online instruction for the entire semester if they like, or to do a hybrid model or come back to in-person when things are safer but following all social distancing guidelines.”

The school district is making laptops available to students who may not have access to one. Students and parents can request a laptop by filling out this form

Parra said he thinks no one has the answers or solutions to this healthcare scare, so everyone is trying to do what is best and safest for the students based on the science and mitigation efforts that have proven to work so far. 

“The state is providing flexibility to districts based on their community data. So this helps us in making the best decisions guided by the data, science and health expert recommendations.”

Nevertheless, things change quickly and daily, which is why Parra said it’s difficult to plan and to prepare for the unknown when there’s a potential risk involved—particularly when you bring large groups of individuals together. So, regardless of any safety measures school administrators can implement, settings with large crowds will present an extremely difficult situation. 

When asked how he anticipates the next six months playing out at NUSD schools, Parra responds: “I don’t know. I just hope that this virus can be controlled soon. Hopefully, we will have better days by then and go back to some type of normal. Or that a good treatment or vaccine is in place by then?”

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