• School Safe Opening Criteria

    Posted by Thomas O'Connor on 9/21/2020


    School Safe Opening Criteria

    September 21, 2020

    I am so happy to announce we have 265 registered students. On March 6, 2020 our enrollment was stable at 278 students. We are thankful that our student body has shrunk by only 13 students during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Currently 91% of our students are enrolled in On-line Distance Learning. The remaining 9% are receiving learning opportunities and support services on campus.

    On July 23, 2020, Governor Ducey introduced Executive Order 2020-51 the “Arizona Open for Learning” Plan. In that plan, he outlined learning opportunities for children with special needs, i.e., SPED, ELL, Homeless, Foster Care, or students with “extenuating family or individual circumstances as well as students who need a safe place to come back to.” It was his priority to assure a safe learning environment for students in need. Twenty five children qualified for learning opportunities and support services and have been attending school since we officially opened.

    Now we are approaching the October 12, 2020 date in which the Board voted to reopen the school house. Specific criteria/metrics and public health benchmarks have been set by the state and county and must be met before a school district can safely reopen. In addition, the Governor has given Arizona school boards flexibility in determining when and how to safely reopen buildings. The Governor stated in 2020-51, “Local school leaders will make the determination of when to physically open for regular classes, and consider these recommendations, guidance from health officials, community needs and available resources to determine when to open. This provides maximum flexibility to school leaders, with public health guidance” (Office of the Governor, Doug Ducey, July 23, 2020).

    The GCUSD Governing Board is truly the most professional, caring and intellectually solid board I’ve ever had an opportunity with which to work. They are grappling with the question: “When can we safely bring back our children to the school house?” They are well aware that every decision they make hinges on their ability to make good and long lasting choices that will positively affect your child’s educational future. Please find a few minutes to respond to the School Board Reopening Survey.

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  • Brief August Updates

    Posted by Thomas O'Connor on 8/31/2020

    Some Brief August Updates

    School Opening

    I hope you have heard that we will be opening school on September 8, with all students in our Distance Learning Program. But you may not have received the background for this decision.

    On Saturday, August 22, the Board decided to open school on September 8, with all students in the distance learning program. The Board felt there was currently too much uncertainty regarding the number of COVID-19 out brakes locally, as evaluated against the criteria established by the Arizona Department of Health Services, to warrant a safe opening of in-person learning at this time.

    The current plan is to open on-campus learning on October 12th, however, the Board will reevaluate that plan at the September 16 Board Meeting.

    Published reports for the County, which contain information by zip code, and recommendations for school opening by school district, can be found on the Coconinio County dashboard.

    To avoid transmission of the virus through drinking fountains, we are replacing drinking fountains with touchless bottle fill stations. We have quotes, and hope to have these in place before students return to school. We are also replacing sinks in the Elementary School Building, removing the drinking fountains, and replacing the faucets with tall touchless faucets for handwashing and bottle filling.

    A Last Note here on Onsite Student Services:

    As required by the Governor's Executive Order 2020-41, we will be providing on-site student services beginning September 8. On-site students services provide a place for students to go to for the purpose of completing thier distance learning activities when they cannot complete those at home, or when they need special services. The executive order requires that we provide these services even if the school is closed for on-campus direct instruction.

    Availability is limited by the need for safe social distancing and available staffing. Mr. Yost, our principal has more information in the notice he sent last week.


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  • Learning Options at the Grand Canyon Unified School District

    Posted by Thomas O'Connor on 8/10/2020

    Learning Options at the Grand Canyon Unified School District


    Here at the Grand Canyon Unified School District, we are working to meet the challenges of keeping your children safe in the midst of a pandemic, while also meeting the important need to further their education.


    We are taking steps to ensure we meet the standards set by the Centers for Disease Control, Arizona Department of Education, the National Park service and State and local health departments for safe reopening (I’d put in NPS, too).  At the same time, we recognize that even this may not be adequate to meet the needs for your particular family situation, and so we are providing alternate learning options.


    What’s Inside

    • Distance Learning
    • What to Expect for On-Campus Learning
    • The Hybrid Schedule
    • The Only Constant is Change

    Distance Learning.

    Child with Computer The Grand Canyon Unified School District is offering a distance learning program. < and newly certified AOI program> While the girl in the photo to the right may be a bit young for our program, our goal is to serve all enrolled students who choose a learn at home option.

    The Distance Learning program follows the in-classroom curriculum and pacing.The curriculum materials are put together by our certified teachers, and is delivered through a combination of a learning management systems and video conferencing tools to create a virtual classroom.While we cannot fully replicate the social interaction of an in-person classroom, video conferencing software provides a rough approximation of in-classroom instruction and offers opportunities for your children to interact in small groups under the guidance of a teacher.

    grade last year.She brings five years of experience as an on-line teacher to the table. The learning management system we will be using, , is the same system we have been using for several years to provide a broad range of elective classes to our high school students.The result is that we have the leadership, experience and tools to ensure your child’s success.

    While details of the distance learning program are still shifting, a typical day would likely begin with a check-in of all students at a particular grade level through our video conferencing system, essentially a virtual home room.The teacher will go through expectations for the day, identifying specific times of on-line classes, and students will have an opportunity to ask questions from the prior work.This would be followed by online classes taught by a teacher through the video conferencing system, as well as self-study, which may consist of exercises, math problems, or watching relevant YouTube videos on class topics, or on-line interactive activities.

    You should expect your child to be engaged in school activities for at least 4 hours each day, though that time would likely be divided into smaller work segments and corresponding breaks where exercise and outdoor time will be encouraged.

    Your child’s teacher will be monitoring your child for adequate daily progress as well as opportunities for individual help when needed.Finally, they will work with their students to find and encourage space for positive interaction with other children.

    The greatest benefit our distance learning program, as compared to other distance learning programs, is that it preserves the all-important relationships between your child and his or her fellow students, and between your child and their teacher.

    In-school Learning

    School will look different this year.

    Riding the Bus

    Girl Getting on Bus If you transport your child to the bus stop, please keep them in the car till the bus arrives. For students who walk to the bus, we will ask them to maintain minimum physical distancing when waiting, something we expect to be a challenge for our students, but we ask your assistance in observance of the COVID-19 virus. 

    When the bus arrives, we will have an aide who disembarks, and greets each student while performing a basic health assessment consisting of some basic questions, any observed signs of illness, and finally takes their temperature with a no-touch infrared thermometer before the child boards. If a child shows symptoms which could indicate a infection, we will ask that the parent return home with the student, or if the parent is not available, we’ll have a separate follow-vehicle, one of the smaller busses or a school van, to isolate the student until they can be picked up by their parent or guardian.

    Seating will generally be one student per seat unless in a family unit, and we’ll be boarding from the rear to the front with assigned seating.As of this point in time, we will require all students and staff to wear face coverings unless they have an approved medical exemption, in which case we’ll make other accommodations.

    School Drop-offs and Walk to School

    We will be changing the area in the front of the school, eliminating parking and in its place will be a drop-off lane, where we will ask parents who are dropping students off by car, to line up in single file. As you reach the walkway up to the school office, a staff member will open the car door, assist your child to exit the vehicle, greet them and screen them in the same way we screen bus riders. We ask that parents remain at the drop-off location until given the go-ahead to leave by the staff member.

    We will similarly have a designated entry point for our walk-up students for screening before they head to their classroom.

    Face coverings will be required for the most part when students are in school, with mask relaxation periods, for example, when all students are at their desks or other times when physical distancing can be assured.

    In the Classroom and in the School

    Covid Classroom Layout Because we expect a fair amount of students to be utilizing our distance learning program, we expect the number of students in our classrooms to be rather small.We will be cleaning out much of the clutter that is common to classrooms to make them easier to clean.Desks will be situated at least six feet apart, facing one direction.We may still be able to have small group activities, though with face coverings and a lot of hand washing.

    Our classrooms will have enhanced cleaning routines, with frequent routine cleaning of high touch areas.  We are replacing the elementary sinks, adding no-touch faucets to facilitate more hygienic handwashing, and replacing all the drinking fountains with bottle fill stations.You should expect to see portable hand wash stations in the upper grades which do not have in-classroom sinks.

    A big change you can expect, which will be particularly apparent at the upper grade levels, is what is referred to as cohorting.We will try to keep students in the same grade level together for the duration of the day.The intention is to reduce the transmission factor, the number of people who could be infected by one contagious staff or student member.In that vein, to minimize the missing of different cohorts, recess will be staggered by cohort, hallways will look more like highways with double yellow stripes indicating lanes and direction of travel.Lunches will be served in the classroom.

    A Hybrid Schedule

    The hybrid schedule was something suggested by the Arizona Department of Education, with the intention of reducing both the number of student in the classroom at any one time in order to facilitate physical distancing, and reducing the amount of time students are together to reduce the virus exposure risk.

    In a hybrid schedule, your child would be assigned to either a Group A, or Group B schedule.Group A would be on campus Monday and Tuesday, and Group B would be on campus Wednesday and Thursday.Any educational process is a combination of direct instruction and either group or individual work. Normally, these are interspersed together.With the hybrid model, the idea is to intentionally separate these into two days of direct instruction, with the individual and group work (via learning management tools) on the days when students are not in school.So the curriculum and student work is pretty much unchanged, but the order of that work is altered.

    The Arizona Governor, in an Executive Order, also requires that the school provide supervised study options to students in a hybrid model.This is intended to support parents who need to work, students who don’t have access to high speed internet, and students with special needs. The information from the Arizona Department of Education suggested that this was primarily a supervised means for students to complete the distance learning portion of the hybrid model.

    This requirement provides a good deal of flexibility, for example, the supervised distance learning could be done locally, in Tusayan or Valle for example, and we have been reaching out to develop partnerships for space where we could offer this, without having to bus students to the school campus.

    As of this writing, there seems to be low interest in the hybrid model, so we may ultimately drop this option. See the next section on change.

    The Only Constant at the Moment is Change

    We are still working out details for what happens when the school opens.Each day, new information becomes available.One day there is a research report suggesting one approach, the next day there seems to be a counter research report.The coronavirus infection rate goes up, then (hopefully) it goes down.

    If any of you reading this are military veterans, you will recall from your time in service that the military is obsessed with planning.Planning is important because planning enables practice, which enables learning, which enables adaption, which is critical when the battle starts and all that good planning goes out the window, and you have to fall back on your training and adapt.

    What we have presented here are highlights of our opening plan, and we ask your indulgence as we continue to adapt it to the changing pandemic landscape and the continuing emergence of new information.

    Child with computer photo by Kemal from

    School Bus photo by Sam from FreeImages

    Classroom, Grand Canyon Schools stock photo

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  • Expected School Opening Options

    Posted by Thomas O'Connor on 7/25/2020

    July 25, 2020

    Since 1994, I have eagerly awaited the first day of school. It has always been my honor to welcome students back after the summer holiday. The Grand Canyon School District will welcome students back on September 8, whether they are returning to the campus or participating in home distance learning. As always, I will be celebrating the reopening of school. This year will be extra special for me and the entire staff!

    School registration opened Monday, July 20th. The District is offering three Options for returning and new students:

    • Option 1) At Home Distance Learning - Online and/or USB drives and or paper packets with teacher support
    • Option 2) Hybrid Schedule: 2 days per week in-person school plus 2 days at-home distance learning
    • Option 3) Four days at school in-person

    Registration was slow to start. At this time, families appear to be interested in Option 1 or Option 3. Both are excellent choices.

    Let’s discuss Option 1. In March, our staff was introduced to K-12 distance learning. The District previously had offered many long distance learning opportunities (7-12) especially to our high school students. But in early March, the Governor declared that all schools in Arizona would be closed. Teachers were asked by Governor Doug Ducey to focus on developing lesson plans and activities for all students while schools were closed. This became an exciting time, as our teachers pivoted from classroom lessons to long distance learning. Our teachers learned how to prepare lessons for online learning and develop packets for those students without technology and connectivity. The Grand Canyon teachers worked endless hours to meet the needs of their students!

    Since then, we have gotten better at this job. Teacher committees under the guidance of Matt Yost, Principal and Lori Rommel, Dean of Students, have met twice weekly. The groups have researched and are developing long distance learning opportunities for our students that meet Arizona Learning Standards. By September 8, the Grand Canyon District will be able to offer a high quality distance learning curriculum with lessons that are research based. We believe our new curriculums will be well received by our students and families.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank our business and community partners who donated time and funds to help provide continued food deliveries through the summer and connectivity to our rural students.

    Let’s discuss Option 2 and 3. Both Options bring students back to the school. Our Administrative Team has been meeting daily at 9:00 am to discuss the reopening of the school. The Team has carefully studied recommendations and guidelines developed by The Center for Disease Control (CDC), Arizona Department of Education (ADE), Governor’s Office, Department of Health Services, Coconino County and the National Park Service.

    For children riding our buses, each bus will be disinfected after every usage upon return to our bus barn. Ozone generators have been purchased. They will run on every bus for 15 minutes while other tasks such as recording mileage, returning keys to key lockbox, reporting mechanical issues, etc. are being performed. Buses are then to be opened and aired out. Disinfectant is to be sprayed on all surfaces and allowed to sit following manufacturer’s instructions.

    Classroom sinks in the 100 Building (grades k-5) are being replaced, including instillation of handless faucets throughout the school. All drains are being checked for easy flow of waste water. The District plans to have a COVID-19 Guide and a Parent/Student Handbook with special emphasis on the pandemic available to all before school opens. The Guide and Handbook will be placed on the next Regular Board meeting agenda for approval (August 19, 2020).

    We will be in full compliance when we open our doors to laughter and learning on September 8. No matter which Option you choose, we will be there for you and your children addressing their educational, emotional and health needs.

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  • COVID-19 Message

    Posted by Thomas O'Connor on 7/13/2020
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