Local educators seem relieved by Governor Doug Ducey’s decision Monday to extend Arizona school closures through the remainder of the school year.

“We’re actually glad to know that Gov. Ducey has made a final decision for all public schools to be closed,” said Pomerene School District Superintendent Mike Sherman. “The uncertainty of what to expect was difficult for staff, so now we can continue to bolster our distance learning efforts and prepare for the next school year.”

On March 30, Gov. Ducey and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman released the following joint statement regarding the extension:

“In alignment with yesterday’s updated federal guidance, today we are announcing the extension of school closures through the remainder of the school year. (The) announcement is intended to give parents and educators as much certainty as possible so they can plan and make decisions. While this isn’t the outcome any of us wanted, we are grateful for the partnership of schools around the state, who have stepped up to offer virtual and take-home learning opportunities for our students...”

The statement also reiterated that Arizona’s number one priority will continue to be health and safety as the state continues to work closely with public health officials to make the best decisions for kids, families and school communities.

“Gov. Ducey’s decision to close schools has provided final clarity for superintendents,” said St. David School District Superintendent Arleen Kennedy. “The task now shifts to determining how we complete the remainder of the year while preparing for the beginning of next year.”

Although things are now more clear for the districts, the students are suffering the consequences.

“While it’s a relief for schools to know what to expect, I feel badly for the seniors who are graduating from high school,” she said. “They are still in limbo as to what their graduation ceremony is going to be like, and it’s very disappointing for them. This is such an important milestone for graduates and their families.”

Meanwhile, school officials and families are making the best of an unprecedented situation until the start of summer break.

Benson and Pomerene school districts are providing free take-home meals to children, while St. David opted out of the free meal program.

“There just wasn’t a need for the free meal program in St. David,” Kennedy said. “A survey regarding the free meal program was conducted, and it showed that as a community, St. David already has a strong support system that provides for the children.”

The Pomerene School District is providing more lunches than what it typically served while school is in session, Sherman said.

“In Pomerene, we’re using the Seamless Summer option, which is a national summer lunch program,” the superintendent said. “While most districts are providing breakfast and lunch, we offer lunch only, distributed from 11:30 to 12:30,” Sherman said.

During that hour, between 100 and 120 lunches are handed to families in a drive-through format.

“We’re providing about 50 percent more lunches than we typically do on an average school day,” Sherman said.

Benson Unified School District (BUSD) serves breakfast and lunch to children from 1 to 18 years of age.

“Anyone in our community in that age range is provided with a free meal package,” said Connie Ayres, BUSD director of business and human resources. “This is a USDA-funded program funneled through the Arizona Department of Education, and all kids qualify for this.”

Around 140 meals are served to children through Benson’s program.

“I really appreciate the breakfast and lunches the school district is giving the kids,” said Patty Lambert, who has three children. “It helps me out because the grocery stores are so depleted right now. They’re out of bread, milk, eggs, cheese and lunchmeat — just about everything we need for lunches.”

Continuing educationAll three school districts have a distance learning plan in place for students.

“Our preschool through twelfth-grade staff made a personal phone call to families letting them know how to access the curriculum for their kids,” said Benson Primary School Principal Jomel Jansson. “Our distance learning program helps the students stay current with their classwork even though we’re not in school. It’s working out really well.”

Most students have laptops or other devices they use to access their classroom curriculum digitally, Jansson said. Instructional packets also are provided.

“We’re all working together to help students and parents stay connected with our schools so the children continue to progress, in spite of the school closures,” Jansson said. “As an educational community, we’re all coming together to make it work, while keeping kids safe.”

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