SUSD testing.jpeg

A UCHC voluntary testing site for SUSD in May.

Sahuarita Unified School District, Continental Elementary School District and charter school Great Expectations Academy are planning to start the school year through distance learning until schools can open to in-person classes Aug.17.

Once the doors reopen, students will have the choice of an online platform or traditional delivery method of learning, though parents will need to decide soon in some cases.

Governor Doug Ducey called the start date of Aug. 17 “aspirational,” and there is still the potential the physical reopen date will be adjusted again.  


SUSD’s Road Back plan was approved by the Governing Board last Wednesday, though there are a number of factors still to be determined.

Some things are sure. Masks will be required, there will be increased cleaning, social distancing measures and a fully online component.

All students will start distance learning online Aug. 10. Parents will have two options this school year— a fully online learning platform called Digital Pathways Academy or brick and mortar, in-person classes. Those who enroll in the digital academy will begin the program at the Aug. 10 start date. Those who opt for the traditional format would move from distant learning to the in-person classroom on Aug. 17. 

Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said having flexibility and options for families was important, based on surveys and research by the district.

Those who opt for the digital academy are expected to commit fully online for the first semester. Once winter break comes, there will be an opportunity to re-evaluate and switch to an in-person classroom.

They currently plan to make this option available to as many students who want it. There will be SUSD teachers dedicated to the digital school which will be determined by the number of students enrolled.

“We’re trying to identify how many students would like to participate so we can take a proportional number of faculty from existing to online positions,”  Valenzuela said.

Parents have until July 17 to sign up for the online academy.

Students in the online program will attend digital classes five days a week and there will be a structured schedule.

For those who return in-person, there will be a number of changes. Among them, is the requirement for staff and students to wear face coverings.

“Though there are different opinions on this, the overall weight of professional counsel and research we did suggest wearing a simple face covering is a significant tool in mitigating the spread of this virus,” Valenzuela said. “If a child or adult has a documented medical situation where wearing a face covering presents a risk we will consider those things.”

Valenzuela said the district will focus on offering the online platform to families who are uncomfortable with face coverings. 

“If there's an issue where somebody strongly prefers not to wear it, we will listen and try to come to an agreement,” he said. “If someone would prefer, they can go online where this issue is not relevant."

The district will be spreading out seating in the cafeteria and eliminating group gatherings like assemblies and school activities.

Valenzuela said they will be using a concept called “cohorting,” or trying to keep groups of students contained to the same group of children.

“During recess and lunch students will be around the same class in somewhat self-contained groups," he said.

The district has a meticulous cleaning and sanitizing schedule for buses and the entire school campus, including increased access to hand-sanitizing stations and educating younger students on proper hand washing.

They will also conduct regular temperature checks on staff and are asking parents to do a temperature check of their child before bringing them to school.

Though the district’s policy already included sending sick staff and students home, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be required to quarantine. The district will report cases to the Pima County Health Department, help sick individuals find resources for treatment and will institute contact tracing.

The district is prepared to quarantine whole classrooms if necessary, transitioning individuals who are sick or exposed to an online learning method.

Athletics and school activities will be on hold due to the close proximity and number of people required to gather. The district will continue to evaluate throughout the year to determine when extracurricular activities will start back up.

A detailed webpage of the school’s reopening plan is available at


The Continental Elementary School District is planning to begin the school year with all students online Aug. 10.

Superintendent Roxana Rico said along with the board meeting, they have a task force made of parents, staff and students who are discussing preliminary plans.

“We are working on our plan for setting up classrooms, social distancing, rotations for students to eat in the cafeteria and use of the playground in small groups following health and safety guidelines,” she said. “There are so many uncertainties that it is very hard to plan.”

The district plans to offer an online option or an in-person option which would start Aug. 17.

Though details of their planned measures of distancing and health and safety standards will be released to parents next week, the district is not making masks mandatory.

Details on the online option will be released this week. Families will receive a survey July 20 where they will be asked to select online or in-person learning.

“This will help in our planning on how to better serve our students and staff,” Rico said. “Everyone needs to remain flexible and continue to try to understand that we are doing our best to ensure that we provide quality instruction, whether it be online or in-person.”

Great Expectations Academy

Great Expectations Academy will begin the new school year July 30 with all students online. On-campus classes will resume Aug. 17.

Principal Jeremy Topp said they will provide families the option of either staying completely online or opting for physical classrooms at that time.

Whether they will assign specific teachers to the online model Aug. 17, will depend on how many opt to stay digital.

“At this point what we're hearing is that would be a small number of students,” he said. “If it turns into a larger number of students we would have separate teachers.”

Topp said they are still determining if students will be able to switch to in-person learning at some point if they elect online learning. A deadline to make a choice is also still being decided.

As far as what families in the school want, Topp said it’s been a mixed reaction.

“We seem to have a small amount that are too nervous to send their children back until there is some kind of immunization and then others that are OK with them coming back with almost no precautions,” he said. “In between that, the majority are just asking what precautions we’re taking, if there will be an online option.”

Topp stressed the need to remain fluid and what they’re planning could change depending on health and safety guidance. At this point, they are planning social distancing measures with student schedules and they will also be utilizing the concept of cohorting.

“For example, with a class of students, we’re going to try and keep that group together, isolated unto themselves,” he said. “We’re looking at what their day looks like physically and how can we reduce and minimize exposure.”

There will be an amplified cleaning and sanitization plan, including air purifiers in the classroom and extra hand-washing.

Masks are not going to be required, but will be strongly encouraged and the school will perform regular temperature checks.

Campus visitors will not be allowed and there will be no field trips or school activities, though Topp hopes it will change if the situation improves.

Tutoring is the only school activity that will continue at this time, completely online.

“I keep emphasizing to parents this is a fluid situation that seems to be changing on a regular basis and we’re trying to up our communication with parents to get out any new information,” he said. “Safety comes first but to make that happen we have to continue to listen to local authorities for the best way to do that.”

Jamie Verwys | 520-547-9728 


Reporter Jamie Verwys grew up in Sahuarita and graduated from the high school in 2006. She lives in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2018.