With statewide concern increasing over the Coronavirus, the Douglas School Board held an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss its options as students were scheduled to return from spring break, Monday, March 16.
After a lengthy discussion, which included hearing concerns from members of the community, the board agreed to extend spring break through Friday, March 20 and have students return to class Monday, March 23.
That return date could change however depending on what information is released this coming week from state and county health officials. Another emergency board meeting may also be called later this week if needed.
All school offices will only be open Monday, March 16, to allow for parents, students and staff to be able to retrieve medication and other essential personal items that they need to have with them while schools are closed.
An estimated crowd of 45-50 people showed up to Saturday's meeting. A small group shared their concerns about school resuming so soon after all the information on the Coronavirus was released this past week.
The three options before the board Saturday was to do nothing and have students return to class as scheduled March 16, close the district indefinitely, or extend the spring break time off one or two weeks.
With AZMerit testing scheduled to start March 30, the board agreed to delay the return a week and request students return Monday, March 23.
All school related events scheduled for this week, including the softball tournament that was scheduled to be held Friday and Saturday at Douglas High School as well as College Night at DHS on Wednesday, March 18, have been cancelled.
District officials state this additional week off from school will not impact graduation which is currently set for Friday, May 22.
"Our most important endeavors here are to look out for the welfare of our students but also, the welfare of our staff," board president Ray Borane said. "We want to be extremely open to the public (and) want the public to know what we're doing. Douglas is much different logistically than other districts that are contemplating closing or have already closed."
Superintendent Samaniego said she understands the concerns of parents, students and staff, and as a parent herself of a student attending DUSD, she is concerned as well.
"I, personally,have been in contact with all state agencies," she said. "None of the state agencies are recommending school closures. They did say information is constantly changing day to day. The information, as of this morning they're not recommending schools close if there is no viable concern. In Cochise County, there are currently no known cases of the coronavirus."
Samaniego added Cochise County school and health officials are also recommending districts not close.
"What we are being advised to do is take some strict precautions in our schools which is what we did prior to leaving for spring break when this situation started at our schools," she said."Over spring break we had our custodial staff thoroughly clean and sanitize our schools since there were no students there. Ultimately our responsibility is to keep our children and our staff safe. We are going to stay vigilant and monitor the situation on a day to day basis."
Board member Natalio Sabal expressed concern over the students who live in Agua Prieta, and attend school in Douglas.
"No one, not even the president, has mentioned anything about the Mexican nationals attending our schools," he said. "I don't know if they're examining for fever as they cross into the United States."
Dr. Ed Gomez and Mitch Lindemann both stated parents also need to be vigilant and if their child has a fever, is coughing or not feeling well, keeping them at home instead of sending them off to school.
"We're going to make decisions based on what is the best interest of this community and not necessarily the state," Borane said.
Even though school will not be in session this week the DUSD will be offering breakfast and lunch from 8 to 10 a.m. at the following schools: DHS, Stevenson, Sarah Marley, and Faras. Any DUSD #27 student may go to any of the four locations offering breakfast and lunch. The district will not be providing transportation during the week.
Below is a letter Superintendent Samaniego posted on the DUSD website shortly after the meeting Saturday.
Dear parents and guardians,
Although Douglas Unified School District #27 (DUSD #27) might be one of the first school districts in the state of Arizona to extend our Spring Break due to this virus, other states across the nation have opted to temporarily close their schools. It is not a matter of if this virus will spread, it’s a matter of when, and we wanted to take proactive measures to ensure our families remain healthy.
Up to this point, we have followed the guidance of our medical experts at our local and state health departments in our approach to responding to the community health crisis. Beginning Monday, March 16, 2020, all schools in DUSD #27 will be closed through at least Friday, March 20, 2020. This includes the cancellation of all out of district transportation and athletic practices and competitions. All school offices will ONLY be open Monday, March 16, 2020, to allow for parents, students and staff to be able to retrieve medication and other essential personal items that they need to have with them while schools are closed.
We want to assure you that this is not a decision we have made lightly or without considerable thought and consideration. We recognize and understand the impact this will have on our families, particularly those who are most vulnerable. We will be offering breakfast and lunch from 8:00 am- 10:00 am, Monday thru Friday, at the following schools: DHS, Stevenson, Sarah Marley, and Faras. Any DUSD #27 student may go to any of the four locations offering breakfast and lunch. DUSD#27 will not provide transportations during the week.
Additional information will be coming to staff and families in the coming days and we appreciate your attention to our communications. We will share this information through our telephone notification system, email, as well as posting on our website and social media channels.
Ana C. Samaniego