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Sat, Jan. 23

Mingus continues online learning; Drake pushes for classroom return

Thursday, the Mingus Union School Board voted 4-to-1 to continue with its distance (online) learning model. Pictured, Principal Genie Gee. VVN/Bill Helm

Thursday, the Mingus Union School Board voted 4-to-1 to continue with its distance (online) learning model. Pictured, Principal Genie Gee. VVN/Bill Helm

COTTONWOOD — For now, Mingus Union High School will keep its campus closed in favor of online learning.

Thursday, the district’s governing board voted 4-to-1 to continue distance learning until Phase 1B of vaccinations in Yavapai County has been completed and the Arizona Department of Health Services benchmarks indicate a return to hybrid or in-person learning.

Board Vice President Lori Drake once again voted against keeping the campus closed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control website, Phase 1B means essential workers, such as education, food and agriculture, utilities, police, firefighters, corrections officers, and transportation.

Stan Goligoski, Executive Director of Yavapai County Education Services Agency, said Friday that Mingus Union staff will be able to receive the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 on Tuesday, Jan. 19. The two-step vaccine process means that the second vaccine would be given no sooner than 28 days after receiving the first injection, Goligoski said.

Anyone who has had COVID-19 must be symptom-free for at least 90 days to receive this vaccine, Goligoski explained. Anyone who has ever had an allergic reaction via injection or has had any other allergic reaction should seek COVID-19 vaccination through their medical provider, he also said.

Friday, Superintendent Mike Westcott sent a letter to the district’s families that explains the board’s decision to continue with its distance (online) learning model. In the letter, Westcott explained that current and predicted COVID-19 health benchmark data indicate that all three metrics “are in the substantial spread category and will remain there for the foreseeable future.”

“The District Governing Board and Administration understand that under normal circumstances this would not be the best approach,” Westcott said. “But in these unprecedented times, we must err on the side of caution and out of concern for the health and safety of our students and staff and the difficulty in properly staffing our classrooms, cafeteria, school and district offices.”

Westcott explained that the Arizona Department of Health Services’ safe return to in-person instruction document indicates the need for distance or remote learning when the benchmarks reach substantial spread for two consecutive weeks.

“COVID-19 cases in the Verde Valley, Yavapai County, and the state of Arizona have increased over the last week to some of the highest rates we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic,” Westcott stated.

Although much of Thursday’s discussion revolved around the country’s metrics, board members also considered the effectiveness of online education before making their vote.

Drake said she thought online education adversely affected student achievement.

“I don’t see how this is optimal when students aren’t doing as well,” Drake said. “School is one of the cleanest places for them to be.”

The district’s remote learning plan has students in school Monday through Friday from 7:55 a.m. until 3 p.m., with teacher-led online instruction Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Students are in class through 12:35 p.m. From 12:35 p.m. until 3 p.m., students work on individual assignments, have study time, or can have virtual appointments with their counselor.

Wednesdays, also from 7:55 a.m. until 3 p.m., are reserved for intervention and teacher planning/training, or can be used for optional Zoom meetings in mathematics and English. Thirty minutes each Wednesday is scheduled advisory time.

Counselors are available all day on Wednesdays for virtual office hours.

Principal Genie Gee explained that the schedule is the school’s best effort to “take care of all of our people” during the pandemic.

“I want to provide the best education for our students and also take care of our educators,” Gee said. “All of us, once we come out of this pandemic, we’ll be making adjustments. At Mingus, we make our plans every year, plans that inform what we do the next year. I told the last board we’d get to an ‘A-letter’ grade, and I stand by that.”

Before the board’s vote, Chip Currie said he thought the district’s remote learning plan was “the best plan based on everything we’ve done before.”

“Grace over rigor,” Currie said. “We can reintroduce the rigor.”

While school is closed to in-person learning, Mingus Union will continue the provision for onsite services, grab-n-go meals, and targeted student support on campus.

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