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While the Instructional Time Models (see related story) approved by the Fountain Hills Unified School District Governing Board at the Aug. 25 meeting outline procedures in the event of a school or district-wide closure due to COVID-19, the Return to School Plan outlines guidelines exercised on a day-to-day basis concerning diagnosis, quarantine, safety precautions and the like.

The Return to School Plan is available for everyone to read at fountainhillsschools.org by highlighting the “Resources” tab and selecting “2021-2022 Return to School Plan.”

The Return to School Plan received quite a bit of criticism during the open call to the public at the Aug. 25 meeting, with 10 individuals speaking. The theme of the comments was concerns about loss of education and athletics due to quarantine. Several expressed a desire to see guidelines that would no longer require students who are not exhibiting symptoms to stay home, even if they were in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID. Another common request was to let parents make the decision and monitor their children in the event a child comes into contact with someone who has tested positive. It was noted, however, that kids being sent to school sick has always been an issue.

It was also mentioned that districts across the state are not establishing the same guidelines. Some are requiring masks despite mandates from Governor Doug Ducey against such action, while others are being laxer with their own requirements, especially in regards to athletics.

While the parents addressing the board during the open call were in favor of less strict measures at FHUSD, Superintendent Kelly Glass noted that the district’s Return to School Plan was written and has been adjusted with feedback from across the board, including calls from parents who wish to see stricter measures return, such as masks and morning temperature checks before entering campus.

The board also expressed frustration with AIA guidelines regarding COVID and sports, which have changed multiple times, making it difficult to make sure everyone is on the same page. There’s also the fact that some measures are guidelines, rather than requirements, which a school could arguably ignore. But doing so could run the risk of a school or district being suspended from participating in athletics through the organization. Further complicating matters is the fact that districts across the state are attempting to adhere to a variety of measures suggested or mandated by a variety of entities, so no two school districts seem to be following the same path to compliance.

During the discussion, Board Member Dana Saar expressed a desire to see more of the responsibility put on local parents. He suggested parents should determine if their child should stay home, if they should wear a mask and, if their child comes into contact with someone who has tested positive, they should decide if their student should return to school if they are not exhibiting symptoms themselves.

Board Member Jill Reed said she was concerned about quarantines potentially stacking for some students, resulting in days out of the classroom and athletics even if they are not personally sick. She noted this is more of a “societal” problem than one unique to FHUSD, expressing frustration with the desire to educate children alongside the difficulties to do so while the pandemic is still ongoing.

Board Member Dr. Wendy Barnard also expressed her frustration, noting that the board and district are responsible to all students, not just some. While some parents are calling for relaxed measures, for instance, others are calling for additional safety precautions to protect their kids.

“We have to consider all students, not just half of them,” she said.

Reed picked the conversation back up, saying she is in favor of quarantine for a student/teacher/staff member who tests positive but, otherwise, she does not feel people should be kept from schools and sports due to close contact. She said it’s a balancing act.

“What are you willing to do to send your kids to school?” she asked. “We’re trying, but we’re limited. There’s got to be give on both sides.”

Concerning the Return to School Plan, Superintendent Glass said she will work with the guidelines already in place, the AIA requirements and additional input from the board and parents to see if a more unified approach could be established.

She noted that the Return to School Plan is not a policy, which is why there was no vote on the matter. It is instead a fluid plan, with the ability to evolve over time.

Any changes are expected to be brought to the board’s attention at a future meeting.