Schools and parents throughout the White Mountains and across the state continue to adjust, on-the-fly, as COVID-19 cases fluctuate. Local schools have reported minimal cases among students and staff, with few exceptions.

Students walking

People throughout the White Mountains and across the state continue to adjust, on-the-fly, as COVID-19 cases fluctuate. Local schools have reported minimal cases among students and staff, with few exceptions.

Many schools are small enough to manage social distancing or are using a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning. Some school districts, like Whiteriver Unified, have remained online since the school year began in August.

Blue Ridge Unified School District sent a notice to staff, parents and guardians Monday which informed them that a fifth-grade teacher tested positive for COVID-19. Due to possible exposure, “their entire class will remain at home on ‘symptoms watch’ until November 30,” stated the letter.

Thursday morning parents were notified of two Blue Ridge High School students who have tested positive - still a relatively small number in a district that serves over 2,160 students. 

An elementary student of another class was also placed on ‘symptoms watch’ after a family member tested positive.

They carefully implemented a grade-by-grade return to in-person learning for K-6 grades only. (The junior high and high schools remain on a hybrid, Monday through Thursday schedule.)

Three students tested positive in September. Two students (one former and one current) tested positive for COVID-19 in late October but neither attended school for more than a week in advance of testing positive.

Those five cases have been the only incidents since the fifth-grade teacher tested positive.

BRUSD Superintendent Dr. Michael L. Wright warned parents to be prepared for all grades to return to online-only learning should the community cases continue on the upward trajectory.

“… given the rapid spread of the virus nationwide, our schools may suffer an outbreak,” wrote Wright. “Therefore, we recommend parents/guardians prepare for a possible return to K-12 online-only learning ...”

Concho Elementary School in Apache County serves K-8 students and had not had any reported cases.

Heber/Overgaard — The Heber/Overgaard Unified School District serves about 500 students. They began district-wide in-person classes in October

The district has had no staff cases but reported two students who tested positive at the end of October.

“Mainly what we are seeing here in our District is that several parents of our students have tested positive and we are asking those students who have been exposed by their parents stay home from school,” said Superintendent Ron Tenney. “Thursday is our last day of school until after Thanksgiving so we are hoping things will slow down after we get back Nov 30th.”

Northern Arizona Academy, a small, charter school in Taylor, closed for two days to deep clean after an office staff member tested positive.

“All other staff members and teachers were tested at that time and all tested negative,” said director Amy Carlyle. “So far no students have tested positive.”

Sequoia Village School (SVS), in Linden, has been open for in-person instruction but only one staff member has tested positive for the virus. That case was reported back in September so the small K-12 EdKey school is still holding its own.

“We have some students who are still working from home,” said SVS Principal Tony Rhineheart. “Our task force meets weekly and we are watching the situation here and across the state.”

“It is a challenging time for all our schools and families,” said Rhineheart.

Show Low Unified School District (SLUSD) is slightly larger than Blue Ridge, serving 2,500 students. On-site classes began in August, as well as distance learning options.

“Since August 15, we have had 8 reported cases,” said SLUSD Superintendent Shad Housley in an email Tuesday, Nov. 17. “In each of the situations we worked closely with the County Health Department to implement our mitigation plan. We have not had a confirmed case in two weeks.”

Snowflake Unified School District serves 2,500 students and includes includes the towns of Snowflake and Taylor. The district has reported only two recent cases.

“Even though cases are quickly rising in our communities outside of school, we have had two students test positive in the last five weeks,” said SUSD Superintendent Hollis Merrell.

St. Johns Unified School District (SJUSD) serves just over 800 students. The district issued an informational letter to staff, parents and the community, Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The letter addressed the rise in coronavirus cases in the White Mountain community and across the state in recent weeks.

The letter does not specifically address the Oct. 23 incident in which up to 100 students were thought to have been exposed to a positive case. The Friday, Oct. 23 football game and homecoming events were cancelled but school resumed in-person classes on Oct. 26.

“Coinciding with this rise, we have had individuals within the St. Johns Unified School District test positive,” states the letter. “However, we have taken the necessary actions to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff.”

The letter says that individuals who have tested positive have been instructed to quarantine “and will not be permitted on campus until the quarantine period has expired and they are symptom-free.”

The school district said they are working closely with the Apache County Public Health Department on contact tracing and follow-up protocols.

The letter also clarified that St. Johns Unified School District is not closing at this time.

The district cited literature published by the CDC titled, The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools, which alleges that “the best available evidence indicates if children become infected [with COVID-19], they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms.”

The CDC information referenced by the school district also stated, “... the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well known and significant.”

The Independent asked for details regarding the Oct. 23 incident but was referred to the Apache County Attorney’s Office.

Vernon Elementary School District (VESD) serves pre-K through eighth grade students and has not had a reported case of COVID-19 among students or staff.

Whiteriver Unified School District (WUSD) has opted not to move into Phase 2 of their “Return to Learn.” This coincides with the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s stay-at-home orders and curfew.

{p class=”p1”}” ... the community positivity rate increased so the governing board approved for WUSD to stay in Phase 1 until the end of our first semester,” said WUSD Superintendent Jennifer Plath.

Reach the reporter at

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

(1) comment


Thank you for keep it positive in the article! The last thing students and families need is for a media scare that leads school boards to remove the in-person option. Schools really are doing the best they can for safe, functional and effective school operations.

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