Sahuarita Unified School District took a cautious approach when it came to COVID-19 protocols and procedures. Among other things, they required masks on SUSD campuses up until the last Governing Board meeting on June 9.
Face coverings became optional immediately that night, following a series of meetings attended by parents who were ready for their children to be unmasked.
Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said the change in policy was something they had been striving for and the timing was finally right.
“For me, a big factor was that the numbers have been going down and remain consistently down over the last several weeks,” he said. “Vaccination rates increased and the other thing is the CDC did make a determination that fully vaccinated people could operate without masks, that and our own local situation.”
Along with high vaccination rates in the area, Valenzuela said over the last month their voluntary COVID-19 testing program has yielded just two or three positive cases.
The board voted, 3-2, to make masks optional for anyone on campuses, including students, teachers, staff and parents.
Valenzuela originally recommended that the change go into effect July 1, after summer school ended, but the board voted to make the change take effect immediatelly.
The dissenting votes, by council member Nicole Werner and president Kevin Opalka, also raised a desire to wait until summer programs were done.
“My only rationale for waiting was to give a little more notice, it would allow us to wrap up our current programs,” he said.
SUSD has two summer school programs that will conclude at the end of June, a K-8 program at Anza Trail School and a high school program at Sahuarita High School.
Valenzuela said the immediate transition to mask-optional was smooth, and when he visited classrooms he observed about half the class wearing them.
“I think the main change that had to be done was the importance of communicating promptly to all those affected individuals and programs, making sure everyone was on the same page and was understanding and enforcing the same norms and expectations,” he said. “There was no disconnect, it has gone smoothly.”
Preparing for the change in the summer school programs took no rearranging of desks or policy. However, the district is still making their final plans for other policies or changes will take effect in the new school year.
“We’re looking at the safety-oriented steps regarding spacing, distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, temperature checks, the use of plexiglass…,” he said. “We’re actually in the process of reviewing, and by our July meeting we will have some more clarity. My mindset on it is there are probably some other things that we may be be able to pull back on.”
SUSD is planning to continue some of its heightened cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
One of the biggest concerns parents have voiced in meetings is students being quarantined as a result of contract tracing. If a student tests positive, those determined to have been in contact with them have to quarantine as well.
Valenzuela said they are still looking at their contact tracing policies.
“I anticipate there will be a level of follow-up when a positive case turns up and, of course, thorough efforts continue to be in place,” he said. “I can tell you I’ve shared in terms of my own feedback with folks in public health, including at Health and Human Services and the CDC, the potential impact of those procedures and impacts on students and their ability to be in school.”
The next Governing Board meeting is June 23.