WHITERIVER — The Whiteriver Unified School District (WUSD) is working closely with the Tribal Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that was established in early May by the White Mountain Apache Tribe to help ensure the health and safety of White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT) residents amidst the high rate of infection of COVID-19 that occurred in the first and second quarter of 2020.

COVID-19 cases on the Fort Apache Reservation have significantly reduced. This includes cases tracked by Navajo County Public Health Services in Apache and Navajo counties. Whiteriver schools are following the same Arizona Department of Education and federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines and benchmarks related to COVID-19.

The WMAT, once a deemed a coronavirus hotspot in Arizona and the U.S. has made significant progress in flattening the curve. This is a snapshot of cases between April 1 and September 24:

  • April 1 = 1 case
  • May 5 = 210 cases
  • June 1 = 885 cases
  • July 1 = 1,818 cases
  • Aug. 30 = 2,400 cases
  • Sept. 24 = 2,435 cases
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Whiteriver schools began their fall semester in August, as did other White Mountain schools. The Whiteriver school district began with an online/distance learning which is considered Phase I of the Return to Learn plan.

The district has five schools that serve approximately 2,500 students. Now, at the end of September, the district is preparing to move to Phase II of the “Return to Learn” plan, according to Superintendent Jennifer Plath.

“Right now, COVID-19 counts are slowing in the Whiteriver community and the Tribe has moved to Phase II and has begun talk about moving to Phase 3, so WUSD would like to begin preparing to move to our Phase II later in October,” stated Plath.

Phase II allows families and students in Pre-K to 6th grade to choose between two different learning options. Students may continue to learn from home via their Chromebooks and hotspots. Or students may return to some in-person learning on the school campuses said Plath.

The Pre-K through 3rd grade students will be on campus Monday through Thursday in smaller class sizes and 4th through 6th grade students will be on campus at Canyon Day Junior High, also for in-person learning on an A-B schedule. The A-B alternating schedule has some students on campus Mondays and Wednesdays and different group of students on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays.

On Fridays, all Pre-K through 6th grade students will either work from home or will be invited on campus in small groups to have small group intervention learning. (Intervention learning focuses on specific reading or math skills that a student may be missing.)

“Families can call their child’s school and let them know which option you prefer: home learning or on campus learning,” said Plath. “We encourage families to select their choice of learning option as soon as possible so we can be well prepared for the start of Phase II.”

Phase III of the Return to Learn plan is a gradual return to on-site instruction for all students.

WUSD follows the state guidelines and benchmarks for education as well as their Emergency Operations Center recommendations when deciding which Phase of the Return to Learn plan to implement.

For more details or to see the Return to School plan in its entirety, visit wusd.us and scroll down on the Home page to APPROVED WUSD Return to Learning Plan Updated 08-25-20.PDF.

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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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