• Superintendent graphic

  • Letter to the Class of 2021

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 5/26/2021

    Dear SUSD Class of 2021,

    I am writing, first and foremost, to congratulate you on reaching the significant milestone of your high school graduation!  As you reach the end of your journey with us at Scottsdale Unified School District and transition to what’s next – either the next level of learning or the employment world - I thought it might be helpful to reflect on your path this past year and share some thoughts about the road ahead.

    This has been an extraordinary year.  No senior class in at least four generations has had to deal with a global pandemic over multiple school years.  The initial shock of having to conclude your junior year online turned into concern about how COVID-19 might impact your senior year, as cases rose last summer and the decision was made that all students would start the new school year online.  We beefed up the district’s online learning capabilities so that you would have a better distance-learning experience. By October, we were able to resume in-person learning, albeit with a different schedule, mitigation protocols, and masks.  Not everyone was able to come back to school at that time, whether it was a result of their own medical situation or that of a family member, so you were split from your classmates in ways that previously had never been contemplated.  Fall athletics were able to take place.  You learned how to deliver Band and Choir concerts on Zoom, Teams, and Google Classroom.  The schedule was changed to ensure you didn’t have to stare at a computer screen more than 6 hours a day.  Even so, the isolation and separation from friends and teachers was not easy.  COVID cases spiked again during winter break, yet even more students made the decision to return to in-person learning for second semester.  Your willingness to follow the mitigation strategies helped ensure that none of our high schools had to shut down because of a COVID outbreak, and not every school district can say that!  In the fourth quarter, we transitioned to a traditional schedule.  We know this decision created some angst, as many of you had become comfortable with the 2/3 day schedule and had filled the balance of time with work, homework, or other activities.  Once the decision was made, however, you made yet another transition look easy.

    In this last half of the year, we resumed more in-person events, offered theater performances and concerts to limited audiences, continued with athletics, and reinstated long-standing traditions like prom, senior breakfast, and in-person graduation ceremonies.  While social distancing and mask wearing made these different, each step represented a slow return to what feels ‘normal.’  What I’ve learned about your Class of 2021 is that you are resilient, adaptable, and prepared to tackle any challenge that comes your way, regardless of whether you are leaving SUSD to head to college, trade school, military, or work.  While there may be some sense of loss for things that did not happen, you found ways to turn this pandemic into an opportunity and make the most of what was possible.

    As we celebrate this graduation week, we want to celebrate YOU, knowing confidently that you are prepared for the future.  Whether you have been part of our school system since pre-school or are a more recent Scottsdale Unified student, you are about to join an ever growing group of alumni, many of whom have distinguished themselves in their careers and are making a difference in their families, communities, and the world.  Each one of you has the ability to change the world, to be a positive influence in your circle of friends and family and in your communities, and to work hard and excel at whatever you put your mind to. Congratulations and best wishes on the road ahead!

     

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    Download a copy of this update in English

    Download a copy of this update in Spanish

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

    Comments (-1)
  • Superintendent's Message

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 4/29/2021

    Rising to the Challenge

    It was at this time a year ago that we, as a nation and as a community, were just beginning to come to grips with how a global pandemic would affect almost every aspect of our lives and, for us as a school district, the way we do what we do: educate. It has been an eye-opening experience, to be sure. All of us have been beset with a whole new world of worries, and determining the best path to navigate them has at times been all-consuming. In preparing for my career, it never occurred to me that I would oversee the development of not one, but three instructional learning models for 22,000 students, while at the same time implementing virus mitigation strategies to keep those students and 3,300 employees safe.

    Yet in all of the COVID chaos, we have managed to find new ways of doing things to create innovative and engaging teaching and learning experiences across our district. Some practices and traditions have gone by the wayside; others have evolved and taken on a different form and structure. In all cases, we have worked to keep our students and their needs at the forefront of our decision-making. While the 2020-2021 school year has been fraught with many previously unimaginable challenges, I am proud to say that Scottsdale Unified teachers, principals and staff have stepped up and delivered.

    Time and time again, we can attest to the remarkable resilience and adaptability of our students to these changing circumstances. With teachers dedicated to helping them succeed, no matter what, students have brilliantly balanced a new world of online and virtual learning, compressed school days, social distancing and face mask requirements, postponed or cancelled events, and interrupted athletic seasons. We have provided them with new opportunities to continue to learn, grow and express themselves, and they rarely disappoint.

    Our teachers, too, have reinvented themselves, mastering new technologies to bring students learning from home into their classrooms, virtually. They have collaborated more closely than ever to embrace instructional challenges and they, too, have succeeded.

    School has looked and felt different this year, but SUSD has not been deterred from achieving noteworthy milestones:

    • Mountainside Middle School and Desert Mountain High School officially became International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme World Schools in November 2020. This globally respected, rigorous academic program offered to sixth through 10th grade students in our Desert Mountain Learning Community complements the high school’s 20+ years IB Diploma Programme.
    • Anasazi Elementary School P.E. teacher Kyle Bragg is national physical education association SHAPE America’s 2021 Elementary P.E. Teacher of the Year.
    • Graduating seniors are in contention for National Merit and U.S. Presidential Scholarships, Arizona seals for Biliteracy and Arts Proficiency, and U.S. military academy appointments.
    • Theatrical and visual arts students and student musicians and vocalists embraced new ways of showing their talent, performing and competing virtually and in outdoor spaces.
    • Two more educators became National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT); five others renewed their certifications this school year. This voluntary, rigorous certification is the most respected professional development program available to classroom teachers in the U.S.
    • Chaparral High School won the 6A state football championship, as well as the Division 1 girls and boys state swim and dive titles. Desert Mountain High School won the girls Division 2 state swim and dive championship. Arcadia High School’s varsity Pom team received Division 2 top honors. Multiple graduating student athletes have signed letters of intent and received scholarships to pursue their sport of choice at the college level this fall.

    As we close out this most demanding of school years, I am also happy to report that many traditional, celebratory hallmarks are set to resume, including high school proms and in-person graduation and promotion ceremonies. Thank you for your steadfast support through it all.

     

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

    Comments (-1)
  • Superintendent's Message

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 2/1/2021

    Focusing on the Future

    The 2020-21 school year has been a year unlike any other. The challenges the district continues to navigate related to COVID-19 have been significant, but the resilience and dedication of our Scottsdale Unified staff and students has been remarkable. The rollout of the vaccine represents a ray of light and hope that better days are ahead. While the remainder of the year will continue to be dominated, in large part, by our COVID-19 response, we are also embarking on a strategic planning process that will help set the course for the school district for the next five to ten years.

    The approach to strategic planning we are taking at Scottsdale Unified is centered on the concept of creating a “future-focused” school district. Rather than simply accepting our current position and identifying incremental improvements, our goal is to engage the larger Scottsdale community to articulate a vision for the district’s future that is both aspirational and inspirational. The knowledge and skills necessary for our students to compete in the future continues to change rapidly. The nature of work has been transformed by artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and other technological advances in ways that previously seemed like science fiction. Yet, much of our educational delivery system continues to look and feel like the past century.

    The strategic planning process will be conducted in three phases, starting with revisiting the district mission, vision, and values as foundational to building a compelling picture of our preferred future. A strategic planning design team is being formed to guide the overall process, but the district will also be reaching out in various ways to gather input from the broader community as a part of creating an inclusive and engaging process.

    Scottsdale Unified School District has a solid reputation as an outstanding school district. As we look at our achievement data, it is clear that there is much more we can do to become a world-class school district that ensures each and every one of our students is supported in achieving their full potential. Although we must continue to address the impacts of COVID on student learning and implement strategies to address gaps in learning, the process for creating a compelling vision of the future will help ensure that Scottsdale Unified emerges on the other side of the pandemic as a stronger district that is unified with a clear focus designed to ensure all of our students succeed.

     

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

    Comments (-1)
  • Update from the Superintendent

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 12/16/2020

    Dear SUSD Families,

    With your attention in the coming days turning to spending time with loved ones during the holidays, I know you are anxious to learn what the plans are for our second semester return to learning, before we part ways for two-plus weeks.

    Our experience this past semester affirms the importance of providing in-person education for students at all levels. As we continue to navigate the challenges associated with COVID-19, we are entering a new phase, both in terms of community spread and our plans for the second semester. Tomorrow, when the county’s latest COVID data is posted, all three benchmark metrics – the number of cases per 100,000 people, the percentage of positive tests and the percentage of COVID-like cases being seen at local hospitals – will, for the first time since this summer, be red for Scottsdale Unified School District’s zip codes, indicating that there is substantial spread of the coronavirus in our community. The timing is fortuitous since it comes at the end of the first semester and we prepare for a two-week winter break.

    Past guidance from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) and the Arizona Department of Health Services pointed to a return to virtual learning with onsite support when all three benchmarks were red. However, as more research emerges with respect to COVID-19 transmission and schools, better and more effective treatments are identified, and with the arrival of an FDA-approved vaccine, the public health agencies to which we look for guidance have updated their recommendations this week. They now embrace the kind of building-by-building approach SUSD has been using in recent months, in consultation with MCDPH, to help determine whether schools should remain open for in-person learning.*

    That said, we also recognize that the upcoming holidays offer new opportunities for COVID spread in our community and in our family circles, and have taken that into account in planning our January return. The Governing Board decided last night to implement the following phased-in return to in-person learning to start the second semester:

    Monday, January 4, 2021:      Pre-K, Elementary and Special Education self-contained students will return for full-day, in-person learning, using the current schedule

    Monday, January 11, 2021:    Middle school students will return for in-person learning, using the current schedule; learning will be virtual the week of January 4

    Tuesday, January 19, 2021:    High school students will return for in-person learning, using the current schedule; learning will be virtual the weeks of January 4 and January 11 (Monday, January 18, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)

    Each K-8 school is being provided with some flexibility to determine whether January 4 or 11 is the appropriate return date for their grade 6-8 students. Principals will inform their families directly of their decision. We will also share more information with you in our weekly parent letter on Friday about what each level’s learning model will initially look like for the coming semester. In the meantime, please direct any questions you may have to our Let’s Talk platform.

    We believe this measured approach to beginning 2021 is what is best for students and staff at this time. We will continue to monitor the metrics with MCDPH during Winter Break, in the event new data suggests a revised re-opening plan. I sincerely hope that it does not. We are grateful for the support and partnership with our staff, parents and community as we work to ensure our schools remain a safe place to learn. The decisions we have had to make during this year have not been easy, but the focus has been and will continue to be meeting the needs of our students in the best way possible. Scottsdale Unified School District has continued to invest in options for parents, so that students who need to have an online learning experience also have their needs met.

    As always, thank you for your continued great input and passion for your students’ best interests. We have them at the very heart of everything we do, as well.

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.



    * Statement Regarding MCDPH Support for In-person learning at Schools

    In October 2020, the Arizona Department of Health Services published recommendations for schools “Safely Returning to In-person Instruction1” to guide schools in monitoring community level spread and maintaining a safe learning environment.  Based on this guidance, ADHS states “If a county has all three benchmarks in the red category, ADHS recommends schools transition to virtual learning in consultation with their local health department.” This statement is a general recommendation. In discussions with ADHS, MCDPH and ADHS have agreed to support those jurisdictions who are able to maintain a safe learning environment with regular school-by-school monitoring, regardless of levels of community COVID-19 transmission. If a school/district does not have enough staffing to maintain a safe environment, or if a school/district experiences a school-related outbreak that cannot be controlled with public health mitigation strategies, MCDPH would support transitioning to a virtual learning environment. 

    Further, with the recent publications emphasizing the benefits of in-person learning, particularly for elementary schools2, and the emerging data indicating that in-person school attendance is not a risk factor for youth testing positive for COVID 193, MCDPH recommends preferentially keeping elementary and middle schools open for in-person learning.  If a phased approach is desired, MCDPH recommends beginning with elementary and middle schools prior to opening high schools to in-person learning.

    1 https://www.azdhs.gov/documents/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/novel-coronavirus/covid-19-safely-return-to-in-person-instruction.pdf

    2 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2772834

    3 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6950e3.htm?s_cid=mm6950e3_w

     Rebecca Sunenshine, MD, FIDSA

    CAPT, US Public Health Service

    CDC Career Epidemiology Field Officer

    Medical Director, Disease Control

    4041 N. Central Ave., Suite 600 | Phoenix, AZ 85012

    O: (602) 568-2250 F: (602) 372-2656

    Comments (-1)
  • Update from the Superintendent

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 11/30/2020

    Dear SUSD Families,

    Last night, I provided information on the need to close five buildings today, as well as a renewed request to those who traveled over the Thanksgiving Holiday or participated in a large gathering to voluntarily quarantine.  I know the late notice was a concern for many and, as a district, we are committed to improving the timeliness of our communication as best we can in this current environment.

    This afternoon, I had an opportunity to confer with leaders at Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH).  We reviewed the current situation with respect to rising COVID cases in the county, as well as discussed specific concerns in the Scottsdale Unified School District.  MCDPH continues to take the position that the benefits of in-person instruction outweigh the risks, especially for our elementary and middle school students.  However, MCDPH reviews several factors, including staffing resources, compliance with mitigation strategies, case counts, etc., when it considers whether a school should return to online instruction.

    In reviewing our current situation, MCDPH supports having the following schools return to online learning for the balance of the semester, as a result of staffing shortages and general noncompliance with public health mitigation strategies: Arcadia High School, Chaparral High School, and Desert Mountain High School.  Accordingly, we will begin transitioning to online learning, effective Tuesday, December 1, 2020, for these three high schools.  The following Special Education programs located at Arcadia, Chaparral and Desert Mountain will remain open to in-person learning and continue with a full-day schedule:  ALC, SCA, LSC, SUCCESS, SHINE, and SCORE.  Cocopah and Mountainside Middle schools will re-open for in-person learning tomorrow.

    This was not an easy decision, but it is one that was made following the guidelines established by the Governing Board regarding determining potential return to online learning on a school-by-school basis in consultation with public health officials.  It is our hope that this will also result in freeing up enough substitute teachers to cover other buildings and allow the District to continue offering in-person instruction through the end of the semester.

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

    Comments (-1)
  • Letter to the Community

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 11/29/2020

    Dear SUSD Families,

    I am writing to you this evening to reiterate my earlier request that you voluntarily quarantine if you and your students traveled during the Thanksgiving holiday or if you hosted or attended a large gathering beyond your immediate family.  I also want to notify you that five of our schools will be closed tomorrow, Monday, November 30.

    COVID cases and hospitalizations are increasing rapidly.  This is true in Scottsdale, across the state, and around the country.  As we navigate the pandemic, I understand that each family must make its own decisions with respect to how much risk it is willing to take; however, as a public school system, it is also our responsibility to take steps necessary to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our students and staff.

    As a district, we have been doing everything in our power to ensure in-person education remains an option for our students.  To that end, we have implemented mitigation strategies that include universal mask-wearing requirements, frequent handwashing, physical distancing, and asking students and staff to stay home when sick.  Even so, it is likely that many of our students and staff who chose to travel for the holiday have been exposed to COVID and may or may not be symptomatic when we return to school tomorrow.  It is for this reason that I again ask every family that chose to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday or to host, attend or participate in a large gathering where social distancing did not take place, such as a sporting event, to please keep your children home and have them participate in remote learning for the next two weeks. 

    Unfortunately, we have learned over the weekend that we do not have an adequate number of teachers or substitutes to cover all teacher absences tomorrow.  As a result, the District will close the following schools for one day:  Arcadia High School, Chaparral High School, Desert Mountain High School, Cocopah Middle School and Mountainside Middle School.  We cannot ask our students to come to school for in-person instruction unless we can provide it safely and meaningfully.  The lost day of instruction will likely need to be made up at the end of the school year.  Please note that although tomorrow’s closures are not the result of any known COVID outbreaks in our schools, this decision is consistent with our commitment to individually evaluate each school’s ability to remain open.  Should further closures be required, the District will strive to provide timely communication to affected families.  All other SUSD schools will be open tomorrow, as planned. 

    These are difficult times.  Those who have personally experienced the effects of COVID understand that for some, the symptoms are relatively mild, but for others they are severe and life-threatening.  Although hope is around the corner in the form of vaccines and better therapeutics, the strain on our health care system creates a troubling situation if we are unable to get the spread of COVID under control.  As mentioned in a previous letter, closing schools alone is not likely to impact community spread, but unless our families and staff follow our request that they quarantine following travel and remain home when sick, we will experience elevated risk in our schools at a time when community transmission is already substantial.  While I am grateful that, to date, there is very little evidence of spread within schools, I am deeply concerned that this could change significantly in the weeks ahead without our taking additional drastic steps.

     

    Sincerely,

     

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

    Comments (-1)
  • Letter to the Community

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel, PhD on 11/13/2020

    Dear SUSD Community,

    As cases of COVID continue to rise in our community, county, state, and nation, many people have expressed questions and concerns related to why Scottsdale Unified School District has not made the decision to return to online learning at this time. As noted in prior communications, we are monitoring a number of factors with respect to when it is advisable to take this action, recognizing that any decision to return to remote learning is accompanied by other issues and challenges as well.

    This week the case counts for our 15 zip codes exceeded 100/100,000 for the 2nd consecutive week, putting that benchmark back in the red category. The positivity rate for our zip codes is at 5.86 (weighted average), which remains in the yellow category. These are the two primary benchmarks reflecting community spread. However, we are also reviewing data in each of our buildings, including the number of positive COVID cases in students and staff, and whether there is evidence of in-school transmission. Our current data still reflects relatively low numbers of positive cases in each building. In fact, for the period ending 11/12, we had 9 buildings with 0 active cases reported (Anasazi, Copper Ridge, Desert Canyon Elementary, Hohokam-Yavapai, Hopi, Ingleside, Kiva, Pima, and Pueblo). Another 11 buildings only reported 1 new active case this week (Cheyenne, Cocopah, Coronado, Desert Canyon Middle School, Desert Mountain High School, Laguna, Mohave, Mountainside, Navajo, Sequoya, and Tonalea). At the high school level, Chaparral, which experienced a high number of cases a month ago, reported only 5 new cases this week, which is evidence that behavioral changes can result in reduced transmission. The highest number of active cases in any building was 5. In total, we have 39 positive cases representing .21% of the total number of students and staff on our campuses. Additionally, the fact that we are not seeing significant transmission of COVID within buildings signals our mitigation strategies at school are working. According to the health department, schools returning to virtual learning without other community-wide prevention measures are unlikely to prevent community spread. Given the importance of education and the relative effectiveness of our current mitigation strategies within our schools, we are taking a measured approach to managing our response in consultation with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

    However, I am concerned about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the increased exposure resulting from travel and large gatherings. While holiday traditions are important, the increased risk has been noted by public health officials. CDC has provided guidance with respect to mitigation strategies for Thanksgiving. An article published in the Washington Post this summer illustrates how widespread and impactful COVID transmission can be following interstate travel. In order to support our commitment to keeping our schools open as long as we can do so safely, Scottsdale Unified School District is requesting that families who choose to travel for Thanksgiving or host large gatherings (ten or more non-family members) to voluntarily quarantine for fourteen days after returning home, in order to ensure the incubation period has passed before returning to in-person learning. We recognize this is an unusual request, but the alternative course of action would be to implement a two-week shift to virtual learning for all buildings in order to reduce the potential risk associated with holiday travel.

    These are trying times for our students, families, and staff. This past week, we learned encouraging news about increasingly effective therapeutics and a possible vaccine. While there is still much we do not know, it is clear that we can only slow the spread of the virus by taking action collectively as a community. Wearing masks, frequent handwashing, maintaining physical distance, and staying home when sick, are all important to reducing the transmission of COVID. I know many families have already made difficult choices and sacrifices, and I am hopeful we will all pull together for the next month as we wrap up the first semester of what has been an extraordinarily challenging school year. Thank you for your partnership and consideration of this request.

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

    Comments (-1)
  • Superintendent's Message

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 11/1/2020

    The beginning of the 2020-21 school year began with our students learning from home, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For the most part, they adjusted well, in no small part because of amazing support they received at home from their parents, but also because of our teachers, who once again embraced the challenges of distance learning with creativity, enthusiasm, skill and grace.

    Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in Arizona in March, it has been our goal to bring students back to their school campuses as soon as public health officials advised that it was safe to do so. In close coordination with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health and its Disease Prevention Medical Director, Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, we began phasing in student populations, slowly and carefully, on Sept. 14. When we returned from fall break on Oct. 12, all SUSD students whose families wished them to learn in person were in classrooms. For those families who chose to keep their students at home, we continue to offer instruction, either directly from their school or from Scottsdale Online, our long-established distance-learning program.

    To prepare for students’ return, the District developed and implemented an extensive mitigation plan. In addition to having a registered nurse on each SUSD campus, we added 500 new hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations, upgraded air filtration systems, limited public access to schools, re-arranged classroom seating, provided staff with personal protective equipment and classrooms with cleaning supplies, and require everyone to wear a mask while they’re on District property, including buses. High touchpoints are cleaned throughout the school day and each campus is cleaned thoroughly each night.

    Even so, COVID-19 continues to circulate in our community, and several of our high school sports teams and their close contacts, family members and coaches have had to quarantine, as have pockets of elementary and middle school students.

    Our business is to provide the exceptional educational learning opportunities for which Scottsdale Unified is known, but to be able to continue to do that requires the support of our entire community. We want to keep our schools open, and we are planning for five-day, full-day K-12 schedules to resume in January, with continued online options for those who need it. We cannot do this alone.

    Please help us - and protect yourself at the same time – by following these widely accepted public health recommendations: wear a mask when you are out and about, distance yourself physically as much as possible from others, wash your hands frequently and stay home if you’re sick.

    We are also looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year and will open our District for online open enrollment applications beginning Nov. 2. Open enrollment is the method resident families use to change schools within the District and non-District families use to attend SUSD. Learn more at www.susd.org/enroll.

    Lastly, for those of you who will have kindergarteners next school year, we encourage you to consult our website, www.susd.org, for ‘Five Hive’ events the week of Nov. 9 – 13 at our 19 kindergarten-grade schools.

    Learn more about Scottsdale Unified School District and its award-winning academic, arts and athletic programs at www.susd.org.

    Comments (-1)
  • COVID-19 Update Letter

    Posted by Scott A. Menzel, Ph.D. on 10/27/2020

    Dear SUSD Families,

    I am writing to provide an important update as we continue to work with public health officials to address the increasing number of COVID cases in our region. On Friday we shared information indicating that three of our Scottsdale Unified School District zip codes had crossed the 100/100,000 cases benchmark for the first time since we returned to in-person instruction. In that message we noted language from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health guidance to “begin planning a transition…to Virtual with onsite support the first week that the data changes.”

    Subsequent to sharing that guidance, we learned that the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) updated their recommendations for schools (slide 6 in the linked document contains the specific language). Significantly, the recommendation to return to virtual learning is predicated on all three benchmarks reaching red status whereas previously it was only one indicator becoming red for two consecutive weeks.

    After learning about this change, I was able to talk with officials at Maricopa County Department of Public Health regarding implications for our schools. I specifically asked whether the recommendation to close schools was automatic after one or more benchmark indicators were red for two consecutive weeks. While MCDPH officials are still processing the revised guidance from ADHS, they indicated that the decision to close schools is not automatic. They recognize the importance of being able to provide in-person instruction and that local context matters. While the level of community spread is an important indicator, it is not the only variable considered before recommending a return to virtual instruction with onsite support. The other factors include the number of cases in the school, evidence of transmission within the school, availability of the teaching workforce, and compliance with public health recommended mitigation strategies. The decision to close is not taken lightly or made quickly, but will be done considering all of these factors on a school by school basis.

    I specifically asked about elementary schools and was told they would not be recommending closing any of them at this time. While things can change, I thought it was important to provide this update to all of our staff and families since there have been so many emails and Let’s Talk dialogues following the Friday communication.

    We want nothing more than to be able to keep our schools open. I am grateful for the efforts of so many in our community to follow the public health guidance regarding wearing masks when in public, maintaining physical distance, washing hands, and remaining home when sick. We cannot let down our guard at this critical juncture. Together we can navigate these challenges in order to meet the needs of our students.

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

    Comments (-1)
  • Letter from the Superintendent to Parents

    Posted by Dr. Scott A. Menzel on 10/19/2020

     

    Dear SUSD Families,

    I am writing to share information with respect to the Scottsdale Unified School District COVID response efforts and current challenges and concerns.  As of last Thursday, we had 25 known, lab-confirmed, active cases of COVID in students and staff throughout the District, representing about 0.11% of our total - up from 9 cases in the prior week.  Fourteen of those were at Chaparral High School.  Many people have asked questions about what the District is doing in response.  Others have suggested the number of students with COVID at Chaparral is much higher than what has been reported.  I think it is important for our entire community to have a better understanding of the process the District uses to investigate reported cases and the action that is taken once cases are confirmed.

    While our students and staff are doing their part while at school, activity outside of school appears to be the reason for the increase in cases noted this past week.  Many people traveled for fall break and groups of students who traveled together have become ill.  Others participated in larger gatherings with friends (unmasked and not physically distanced), which also appears to have been an environment where the virus was passed to others.  Regardless of whether you think the response protocol to COVID is an overreaction, our ability to keep our schools open is dependent on how the entire community chooses to act and not just what happens at school.  COVID cases in Arizona dropped by 75% after the mask mandate went into effect.  We know that wearing masks, combined with physical distancing where possible, and frequent hand-washing are critical elements to reducing the spread.  The other critical element is staying home if you are not feeling well and/or are exhibiting COVID-like symptoms.  It is this last point that is causing me some of the greatest concern.  It has been reported that students are coming to school sick, either with COVID-like symptoms or, possibly, even with a known COVID positive test that hasn’t been reported to the health department.  If students and families send sick children to school, our ability to remain open is in serious jeopardy.

    We are living in a time in which friends and neighbors are now at odds over this pandemic and many other challenges our society is facing.  The polarization is real, and there are some in our community who are using it as a wedge to divide us even further.  Dismissal of the threat of COVID is as much of a problem as paralyzing fear that can lead to inaction and full shutdown.  The false choices of pretending that COVID is not a threat and, therefore, living as though it is no more of a challenge than the flu, or closing everything down until we have a vaccine, undermine the thoughtful and balanced approach that is necessary for our community to weather this storm and come through on the other side stronger as a result.

    I want our children to be in school.  I want our teachers and staff to be safe, knowing that our parents are partnering with us to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID by following the mitigation strategies every day, keeping sick children home and notifying us when they are aware their child has COVID or a family member has COVID.  I hope you find the information regarding our process and approach helpful.

    SUSD COVID Response Process

    • Initially a parent, student or MCDPH notifies the school of a COVID case.  
    • Information is processed through the school nurse of each building and contact is made with Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) to confirm it has a record of the lab-confirmed positive case, as well.  In some cases, the county has contacted us about a case, in others, we report it to them and they initiate a process to determine whether it is a confirmed case. 
    • Whether or not a person has a lab-confirmed case, if they are sick and exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-like illness, they are asked to stay home.  
    • When the county confirms a positive case, they send a letter to the nurse with communication protocols and recommendations to proceed with identifying anyone who was in close contact with the positive case.  Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet or less of a positive case for 10 minutes or more (the minutes do not have to be consecutive).  This is one of the reasons we have emphasized having seating charts and carefully tracking attendance each day, so we are able to quickly identify students and staff who meet the definition of close contacts.  
    • Individuals who are determined to have been a close contact are required to quarantine for 14 days, pursuant to guidance from MCDPH, and to monitor for COVID-like symptoms.  Many parents have asked whether their child can return to school and school activities before the 14 days have elapsed if they have tested and it comes back as negative.  The MCDPH indicates that the only exception to the 14-day quarantine from the last date of exposure is if a student has had a lab-confirmed PCR or antigen test within the last three months, in which case those individuals do not need to quarantine.  The reason for not accepting a negative test as evidence a student can return is the 2-14 day incubation period of the virus, meaning a person could have a negative test early in the incubation period and still be carrying and shedding the virus.  
    • Decisions with respect to closing a school (e.g. Chaparral) are made in partnership with MCDPH.  The health department is not recommending closure at this time, but we are carefully monitoring the data and remain in close contact with public health officials.

    Communication Protocol

    • When a case is confirmed by MCDPH, a general notice letter is sent to families indicating a positive case of COVID has been identified and that there is a potential exposure to COVID in the school. Sometimes the general communication letter only goes out to a classroom or a grade level, and in other cases it is sent to the entire building.  This determination is based on the facts related to potential exposure.  
    • For those who have been identified as being in close contact, a separate letter is sent to notify the family of the additional risk and the requirement to quarantine for 14-days from the date of last exposure. When possible, individual phone calls are made to the families of close contacts, as well.  
    • MCDPH may determine a school “outbreak” of COVID-19. This is defined as two (2) or more students or staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period who could have had some close contact, such as in a classroom or on a school sports team, do not live in the same household and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during the MCDPH case investigation (e.g. friends who play together in each other’s homes).  In this case, the district will send an outbreak letter to the entire community.   
    • The letters that are sent out include COVID information that MCDPH recommends we share with families. While many parents may be aware of the information provided in the letter with respect to COVID, others may not have had as much experience or understanding of the virus, and so we include that information in each of the letters.

    On October 12, we had students on all of our campuses for the first time since March 6, 2020 (the Friday before spring break last school year).  As our community, state and nation continue to navigate this global pandemic, we have been working to ensure our children are able to receive the education they need and deserve, while also taking measures to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our students and staff. 

    I continue to receive emails and ‘Let’s Talk’ dialogues from highly credentialed individuals in our community, arguing that we have not made the correct decisions with respect to our return to learn plan (with some suggesting we should open up more quickly and others indicating we should be remaining virtual).  What I can tell you is that our team has carefully considered the data, advice from public health

    officials, and lessons learned from other communities that opened before us to ensure our plan would allow us to remain open once students returned.  Unfortunately, that potential is now at risk as a result of decisions that are being made by some in our community, and I think it is important to raise this concern with you and ask for your assistance.

    Since students started returning to our campuses on September 14, I have had the opportunity to visit various buildings and classrooms to see how things are going.  I have been impressed with the substantial compliance with our mask-wearing requirement by students at all levels.  This was a significant concern for many before we started, but our staff and students have shown an ability to respect the requirement as a condition of being able to have school in-person.  I have also seen just how important it is that our students are able to be back on campus.  There is no question in my mind that in-person teaching and learning is better for the majority of our students.  I also recognize that there are some students who are able to thrive in an online environment and others who have to remain online as a result of health considerations.  My recommendation to the Governing Board related to next steps is driven by the needs of all 22,000 of our students, along with our nearly 3,000 staff members.  In order to keep our schools open for in-person learning, we have to remain in the moderate (or yellow) category for spread of the virus.  If the community spread indicators return to red for two consecutive weeks, the recommendation from public health officials is to return to virtual education for all students, because a red metric indicates substantial community spread. 

    These have not been easy times for any of us.  Balancing the health and safety challenges while providing high-quality educational opportunities has always been our goal.  We are committed to doing what it takes to keep our schools open, but we cannot do it alone.  While I miss seeing smiling faces and would rather have people see my facial expressions, I choose to wear a mask.  This is not because I am afraid of COVID (although I do have family members with compromised immune systems and I am concerned if they were to become ill), but because I do not want to be a person who could unknowingly and unintentionally pass the virus on to someone else.  It is a sign of care and concern for my neighbor and my community.  I respectfully ask you, our parents and partners, to assist us in being able to keep our schools open.  Together we can do this.  Our students, your children, are depending on us.

     

    Sincerely,

    Scott A. Menzel, PhD

    Superintendent

     

    For more on the superintendent's office, visit www.susd.org/superintendent.

    Comments (-1)