FACT FINDERS: What does ‘cohort’ mean in returning to school?

School cohorting plans for new school year

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Gov. Doug Ducey said more guidance will be released next week for Arizona school districts preparing for the new year as the coroanvirus continues to spread.

“I am going to tell you our kids are going to be learning in the fall.,”Ducey said in a news conference Thursday. “We are going to do our best to conduct the most positive educational year that we can.”

As districts release their plans for getting children back to the classroom safely, there’s a term you will be hearing a lot and that is cohorting.

“Specifically, when it refers to schools, it means a cohort of students that will not be divided and will stay together throughout the school day,” said Dr. Gary Kirkilas.

Kirkilas, a pediatrician from the University of Arizona College of Medicine, said he is asked about child safety almost daily.

“Cohort” means keeping students together to try and narrow children’s exposure to COVID-19. So, if there is a class of 25, it may be split into two or three groups to narrow the number of children your children, or staff, interacts with.

“Some would go to French class, honors math, regular math,” said Dr. Kirkilas. “Before, it was inevitable. One student gets COVID, it’s possible for the entire school to get it.”

While the Sunnyside Unified School District will start the school year with online learning on Aug. 5, there are plans in place if and when students can safely return to campus.

While students will social distance in the classroom, transitions will be limited. When it is time for students to move throughout the day, “students will be scheduled in cohort groups to minimize interactions” where possible.

The Tucson Unified School District has decided to transition all teaching to a virtual platform for at least the start of the school year, even when students and some staff members return to the classrooms. Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo said the district will be taking steps to minimize interaction and slow any potential spread of the virus.

“We are taking some bold steps to keep class sizes as small as possible, creating a paperless environment is part of that work, making everyone wear a mask is part of that work,” Dr. Trujillo told KOLD News 13.

According to plans, the district will also limit movement between classrooms and lunch for students will be on a staggered schedule.

For in-person learning at the Catalina Foothills School District, plans include keeping elementary classes together throughout the day where feasible. At elementary recess, smaller groups of children will be at play and playground equipment will be cleaned after each group’s use.

Dr. Kirkilas said cohorting will also help with contact tracing if the case of COVID is identified.

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