Superintendent Manny Valenzuela addresses submitted questions during a virtual community conversation on Wednesday. 

The Sahuarita Unified School District held a virtual community conversation last week to address questions from the public and to clarify the expectations for the new school year.

SUSD spokeswoman Amber Woods said the district received 102 questions via an online form. Here are some of the main themes and clarifications from the digital meeting.

Why don’t we stay online for distance learning until Oct. 1?

On July 7, members of school governing boards from across the state sent a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey requesting, among other things, that schools remain closed to in-person instruction until Oct. 1. 

Will the district postpone opening for physical classes? Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said, “We may, but may not. There are a lot of variables and some of those variables are out of our control.”

He referenced a requirement from the governor which requires the school to provide 180 days of in-person classroom instruction. In a press conference Thursday, Ducey said he would be releasing additional information about schools reopening.

Digital Pathways Academy

Parents had until July 17 to enroll their child for at least the first semester in the district’s fully online learning platform, Digital Pathways Academy.

Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Brett Bonner said students would spend a third of their day in front of the computer.

For K-5 students, live teachers will create virtual classrooms creating and delivering lessons and responding to student’s daily needs. They will be using the i-Ready platform and will also have assigned offline extension activities.

For students grades 6-12, licensed facilitators will oversee student learning through the Edgenuity platform. Students will also have virtual tutoring and goal-setting meetings. Advanced Placement, honors and a variety of elective courses will be available to high school students through the digital academy.

Bonner said as of Friday afternoon, the Digital Pathways Academy had the highest number of enrollment at all of their schools.

"It's the largest school and it's the one you can't see, it spreads over 600 square miles," he said. "On behalf of the district, we are so appreciative for the trust, feedback and support of all the challenges as we navigate this together to launch a new educational program."

In the first year of this program, seniors who graduate from the digital academy will receive a diploma from their physical school of origin, wear that school's colors and participate in that school's ceremony. They will have a Digital Pathways-specific stole, though this may change in the future. 

Students who are part of the digital academy will be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities that are after-school activities, like sports or clubs, that do not have an associated in-person class, like high school band.

Students who will take in-person classes tentatively starting Aug. 17 will start distance learning through Google Classroom on Aug. 10.

Wearing masks

The district will require masks of students, teachers and staff.

Valenzuela said they will make accommodations for those who have medical conditions that would cause a significant health risk to them. The district will require documentation.

Face shields will not be allowed, as they do not fit snug around a person’s face. In situations like speech therapy, where an instructor’s mouth is an important component of instruction, they are considering masks with clear mouth pieces.

The district is planning opportunities for students to take brief breaks from their masks when it would be safe to do so.

“They (masks) can be bothersome at times but it's a small price to pay to get back to school and support safety," Valenzuela said. 

Sports/Physical Education

Sports and extracurricular activities are on hold and PE will focus more on personal fitness and health.

They will continue to re-evaluate the situation to determine how sports and activities like marching band could resume in the future.

Cleaning facilities, buses

SUSD’s reopening plans include daily cleaning and sanitizing procedures. They have changed the custodial schedule to account for this and teachers will have a role in cleaning their classrooms.

The district anticipates there will be a decrease in ridership on school buses because of their new three-tier bus schedule and a portion of students attending the online academy. They expect there will be one to two students in each seat.

Buses will be regularly sanitized, employees will receive daily temperature checks, masks will be required and the buses will be ventilated.

Food services

Cafeteria workers will receive daily temperature checks and the variety of meal options will be reduced. There will no longer be self-serve options and the district will move to a grab-and-go style. Students will be spaced out physically as well a staggered schedule being implemented.


Valenzuela said the state is still working out how attendance and absence reporting will work, but said they will ensure students or staff who have to quarantine due to COVID-19 will not be penalized.

The reopening plan is available at

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.