Schools open for in-person learning

Blue Ridge Schools, grades Pre-K-12 return to in-person learning Monday, Feb. 22. and will attend regularly established start and end times at each school. Whiteriver Unified School District also returns Feb. 22 with specific grades on campus. Theodore Roosevelt School on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation will also return to in-person learning Feb. 22.

PINETOP-LAKESIDE — The Blue Ridge Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Michael L. Wright issued a letter to school staff and families last Monday. The letter states that, on Feb. 22, “all Blue Ridge Schools, grades Pre-K-12 return to in-person learning, Monday through Friday, according to our regularly established start and end times at each school.”

Students choosing to participate on-campus must adhere to all protocols and procedures designed to slow the spread of the virus, including proper mask-wearing while on any school facility. The same face-covering and social distancing protocols and guidelines apply to athletic events and any school sponsored activity, according to Wright.

If students, parents or guardians are unwilling to comply, they will not be able to participate in on-campus learning. This means they will need to remain attending school online.

Families that prefer their children to remain attending classes online will still have distance learning for the duration of the 2020-21 school year.

Wright’s letter also states that staff members must wear appropriate face-coverings while on campus. And, staff is strongly encouraged to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The school district indicated that, by the third week of February, all Blue Ridge USD staff will have had the opportunity to receive both vaccine shots “with time sufficient for the vaccination to be effective,” states the letter.

“While we follow all cleaning and disinfecting protocols, despite our best effort, however, physical distancing (recommended by the CDC) in many instances is impossible because of the number of students in some classes and or the size of learning spaces,” stated the letter which reinforced the importance of mask-wearing for staff and students.

“Despite apparent challenges and constraints related to face-to-face instruction and potential exposure to the virus, our schools are committed to doing their part to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible,” said Wright.

Whiteriver Unified School District (WUSD)

WUSD Superintendent Jennifer Plath issued a letter last Thursday which stated that the governing board approved schools to begin Phase 2 on-site instruction Feb. 22. This means K-6 grades will resume in-person classes. Canyon Day Junior High School and Alchesay High School will remain online at this time.

Phase 2 requires very limited class sizes and limited numbers on the buses in order to socially distance.

“Fourth and fifth grades will remain at the elementary school sites during Phase 2, and will be able to attend onsite Monday through Thursday,” states the release. “We will stagger the start of onsite school by grade level: on Monday, Feb. 22, kindergarten, first, and sixth grade will begin. On Wednesday, Feb. 24, second and third grade will begin onsite. On Monday, March 1, fourth and fifth grade will start onsite. Onsite instruction will take place Monday-Thursday for grades K-6. Instruction on Fridays for all students will be virtual on-line.”

All 7th to 12th grade students will continue with remote, distance learning. (Individual and small group interventions and supports will resume on campus for some 7th-12th grade students who need those services.)

A spring sports schedule for high school varsity athletes was also approved by the governing board.

“We are thankful that Whiteriver Community health and wellness data is allowing us to proceed to the next step of our ‘Return to Learn’ plan and we are committed to those practices that will enable some staff and students to be on campus safely,” stated Plath.

Theodore Roosevelt School

Theodore Roosevelt Boarding and Day School has been approved by the White Mountain Apache Tribal Council to resume full, on-campus instruction Feb. 22.

This Reopening Plan also has the support of the Tribe’s Emergency Operations Center and Indian Health Service as well as the Johns Hopkins University Safe Schools Initiative. Students and staff will be provided rapid COVID-19 tests twice weekly through the Initiative.

“It sends a message to our community to be confident in our ability to respond to challenges together, keeping everyone safe and continuing with the important activities in our lives,” stated School Board President Gwendena Lee-Gatewood.

To maintain an emphasis on safety, the school has purchased personal protective equipment, air scrubbers, sanitizing supplies and staff training, etc. to ensure the safest environment possible.

The full Reopening Plan is available at the school, by mail or by contacting Principal Marla Wilkerson at 928-594-2957. Parents are also welcome to make an appointment to see the school safety protocols firsthand.

Theodore Roosevelt School is a tribally-operated Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)-funded grant schools that serves approximately 130 students in grades 6 thru 8 on the historic Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

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Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

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