Fri July 24 COVID-19 Update from Senator Lela Alston

Published on 07/27/2020 • Posted in

Friday July 24, 2020

COVID-19 & The Reopening of Schools 

Dear Friends,

August 2020 brings the start of the new school year and all education programs, from pre-K to our universities, are concerned about the return to the classroom. The number one mission of all districts is keeping students, faculty, staff and families safe, while the COVID-19 numbers of infection continue to grow in Arizona.

Everyone wants students back in the classroom, but everyone also wants our school campuses safe before students and teachers return to the classroom. I reached out to K-8 school districts within LD 24 and the Phoenix Union High School District (PXU) about their return plans for the fall semester. Governor Ducey’s most recent Executive Order pertaining to our schools, allows schools to return to the classroom on August 17, but most districts are coming up with their own plans—plans that address the unique circumstances of their communities.

This is a particularly long newsletter because the reopening of our schools impacts us all. Let’s get started!

Welcome Dr. Arleen Kennedy, New Superintendent of Balsz School District.

Dr. Arleen Kennedy was appointed as Balsz’s new superintendent following Dr. Jeff Smith’s retirement in June. She is a dynamic young woman with an inspiring background; Balsz and LD 24 are fortunate to have Dr. Kennedy leading the school district at this unprecedented time. During a recent Zoom meeting, I asked Dr. Kennedy about the upcoming semester and the challenges Balsz has, at the start of the new school year. She had a lot to share and I am eager to work with Dr. Kennedy in the days to come.

Balsz Return to School Plan

The district will officially open for students on August 17, 2020 pending no other Governor Executive Order delays. Although the District office has reopened for the 2020-2021 school term, only the individual school’s administration and District Office are currently available for questions and concerns. New teachers will return on August 3, 2020 and returning teachers and all other staff on August 5, 2020.

This district is now “district-wide” open enrollment for all students and this means the option to attend any school in the district is available.

The district is allowing for both in-person school attendance and distance learning options. School administrators determine the number of online participants and share with you the parameters of choosing the online option.

What are the greatest challenges that Balsz sees in the coming year?

Bringing a “new normal” back to the safe haven of schools. To that end, we are focusing on four key areas:

  1. Safety Procedures – The district will continue to ensure that every student is safe and will exercise practices that support student safety measures.
  2. Community Communication – The district will work with community resources to revamp our resources and ensure that our plans to support both the students and staff.
  3. Culture – The district will begin to create a culture where every student feels valued and connected to the learning process.
  4. Education – The district will focus in creating an environment of excellence and academic achievement. The ‘Achievement Gap’ will no longer define our students’ challenges, and our students will defy the odds of underachieving stereotypes to represent their best selves.

The return from a crisis setting that has been emasculated by more than just the COVID-19 pandemic, but by the social-emotional trauma that has arisen through the pandemic and the societal responses to race and equity issues. Our students have been hard by experiences that they are being ‘forced’ to endure. As such, the biggest challenge is how do we, as school districts, encourage students to believe in the system again. How do we provide resources at the scale(s) necessary and how do we account for funding this large-scale endeavor?

Resource include:

Social-Emotional training for all teachers and staff

Cultural relevancy and Pedagogy training

Social Workers and Guidance Counselors at every school

Expanding Teachers Resources

It is important to recognize the ultimately those resources command “Human capital” and access to financial opportunities that express to students and their families that we care about their trauma and that we will educate ALL children “Beyond the Pandemic.” It is our goal and our biggest challenge.

The plus to a ‘pandemic’ and/or crisis is the ability for those impacted to have a chance to hit the reset button, and to ask our legislators and supporters to “re-invest” in a system that can and will work with the right resources.

Please CLICK HERE for the Balsz Family Resource Hub, which has additional information and resources for families and students.

Dr. Donna Lewis is the superintendent of the Creighton School District. During a recent conversation, we discussed the concerns that her team has as Creighton prepares for the start of the fall semester on August 3. It is important to note that Creighton recently decided to continue with remote learning until October 13, after the district’s fall break.

Dr. Lewis states that the pandemic has created a deeply challenging time for the district, but they are embracing the situation and reinventing their role as educators. “We are used to providing all things to all people at all times. We are now trying to plan for 17 different scenarios. For example, what will motivate students to show up for remote learning? What is the best time for student learning? Parents are partners on a brand-new level, and we must teach students together.”

The Positives of Remote Learning—What We Have Learned Since March

When Creighton began remote learning in March, the Creighton occupational therapist did not know if it would be possible to teach his students remotely. He did find a way of working with his students and his techniques became famous within the occupational therapy community. This was one of the positives that has come out of the district’s remote learning.

The other positive is one that surprised may teachers. Students who were withdrawn and shy in the classroom, were now contributing in the online classrooms. Their confidence and productivity grew. These students are ones that will remain in remote learning because it is the best setting for them.

There are also teachers who fall into the COVID-19 high-risk category and those teachers will hopefully continue to teach remotely, once students return to the classroom.

The Negatives of Remote Learning—What We Have Learned Since March

Teachers are concerned for their own health and safety, as well as their families. They are frustrated that there has not been safety discussion at the state level. Because none of us know how long the pandemic will place is all at risk, Dr. Lewis states that this is a major concern of her teachers.

During the last 6 weeks of the school year, 125 Creighton families could not be contacted. The students stopped showing up in the remote classrooms; repeated attempts to contact the families were made, using social workers and investigators to visit the homes, without success. Dr. Lewis is concerned that this may happen in the new school year.

Final Thoughts from Dr. Lewis

In one of Dr. Lewis’ recent Creighton Community Updates, she provided a video that perfectly describes not only the goals of Creighton during this unprecedented time, but one I know is shared by all districts. The link to Dr. Lewis’ video is above and I encourage you all to take a minute to view it. She is a talented and compassionate education leader, and it is an honor to work with her and the dedicated Creighton teachers and staff.

“I want Creighton families to show up and find a way to create a routine and a literal place in the home where learning takes place. I also want our teachers to be welcomed into Creighton homes.” Dr. Donna Lewis, Creighton School District Superintendent.

For additional information about Creighton Schools’ remote learning plans and the opening of the new school year, please visit

Dr. Larry Weeks is the superintendent of Phoenix Elementary School District # 1 (Phoenix Schools) and following the July 20 special board meeting, announced that all K-8 Phoenix Schools will start on August 6, and continue with virtual learning until at least October 9.

  • Preschool virtual home visits begin on August 6 and their distance learning begins August 17. The preschool website will be updated soon.
  • Meal pick-up for children 18 years and younger will continue on Wednesdays; new times will be announced once distance learning begins on August 6.
  • The District website will be updated with all the updates and information will be sent to all families next week.
  • Phoenix Schools will let families know when “learning labs” will begin for students who need to do their distance learning supervised on a campus because their parents must work.
  • All updates concerning Phoenix Schools remote learning, the start of the new school year and family supports can be found at

Madison School District COVID-19 Updates & Information

Madison School District Superintendent, Dr. Kenneth Baca, and the Madison Governing Board voted to delay in-person learning until October 2. Classes will begin district-wide on August 11, with all students will begin learning online.

Information about each Madison school’s specific online learning can be found here.

Osborn School District’s Return to School Plans

Dr. Michael Robert is the Superintendent of Osborn School District in central Phoenix. Their plan is to begin distance learning and classes on August 3 and continue with virtual learning until October 2. The link to Dr. Robert’s most recent message to the Osborn community outlines 3 important things that families can do to prepare for long-distance learning:

  • Prepare a schedule at home for students
  • Prepare a learning environment
  • Create a positive attitude for virtual learning

The video is short, and I hope you take a few minutes to view it. Additional information about Osborn’s re-opening can be found at

Latest Video Announcement from Superintendent Robert: Distance Learning from August 3 – October 2 (Video)

 WESD Return to Learn Plan

Dr. Paul Stanton is the Superintendent of Washington Elementary School District, one of the largest districts in the state, with 34 schools that run from 19th Ave in north Phoenix to the Deer Valley area.

WESD will begin remote classes on August 10 and will continue with distance learning for the first 30 days of the semester.

By that time, Dr. Stanton and the WESD Board hope to have enough information from municipal, state and federal education partners to make safe decisions for students, faculty and families, for the remainder of the school year.

For updates on WESD’s Return to Learn Plan visit

Scottsdale Unified School District’s Return to Learn Plan;

Welcome Dr. Scott Menzel