As COVID positivity indicators decline in Arizona, the drive to offer more in-person classroom options in traditional and charter public schools has intensified.
Please click here to see what districts are planning to do over the next several weeks.
While the wish for everything to return to normal for public education is understandable, people should heed the words of Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and others on the need to proceed according to the health metrics on the ground and provide enrollment flexibility for families to choose from.
People need to look no further than what is happening at Arizona State University, whose administration has adopted strong mitigation measures, to see that the Coronavirus can spike anywhere at exponential rates.
Please read below to see what Superintendent Hoffman and others have said regarding the drive to reopen schools to additional in-person instructional opportunities.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman
Following an interview with KJZZ on September 11, 2020
“Adjusting to the new school year has been challenging for students, families, and educators alike. But following the Arizona Department of Health Services‘ data-driven public health benchmarks sets a common set of expectations for school communities all across the state.
That’s why I urge all school leaders to follow the benchmarks for reopening and to continue to provide flexibility for families and school staff.”
On September 3, 2020, she issued this statement just before the Labor Day Holiday Weekend.
“As more counties, including Maricopa and Pima county, meet the Arizona Department of Health Services’ public health benchmarks for hybrid learning, I urge every member of Arizona’s school communities to proceed with caution and refer to the Roadmap for Reopening for guidance. 10 of 15 counties in the state may now consider offering some in-person teacher-led instruction to students. Meeting the benchmarks demonstrates that mitigation strategies taken by Arizonans are working.”
“Schools should continue to provide options for students, families, educators, and staff who are not yet comfortable returning to school facilities. Communication to all school staff, families, and students will continue to be critical.”
“As we saw at the end of spring and throughout the summer, COVID19 can spread very quickly when we fail to adhere to essential mitigation strategies like wearing masks and practicing social distancing. I encourage all school leaders, educators, and families to review the following resources:
✅ Mask Use in Schools: http://bit.ly/MaskUseInSchools
✅ COVID-19 Continuum of School Learning Scenarios: http://bit.ly/LearningScenariosContinuum
✅ Family Resources on the COVID19 page: http://bit.ly/AZED-COVID-19
✅ Recursos para familias en la pagina de COVID19: http://bit.ly/AZED-COVID-19”
Maricopa County School Superintendent Democratic Nominee Jeanne Casteen
“I’m very concerned about reopening schools too quickly, and how that will affect the health and safety of staff, students, and families. I’m also concerned about these decisions will further exacerbate the teacher retention crisis in our state. Our state and country should follow the science, full stop.”
Tempe Union High School District Governing Board Candidate Sarah James
“Reopening schools in AZ has become a divisive issue. We have turned to benchmarks to guide us, but because there is a lack of leadership in our state, districts are using the metrics as a way to open up before it is likely safe to do so. For example, as Mesa prepares to open on the 14th, there are still zip codes with percent positivity at over 11% that are considered a “substantial risk” with the recommended learning scenario being “virtual with online support.” Districts should ensure that the metrics are safe across the district and are maintained for at least two weeks. During a pandemic, it is the responsibility of our districts to keep everyone safe, and by rushing to open with some communities still in the red is shamefully neglectful.”
“Many people speak about the risk to our more vulnerable students as a reason to reopen our schools. I think this is a valid point, however, opening equally across the board is not the answer. We must look at reopening through the lens of equity, and to do that would be to figure out how to first service our kids with food and housing insecurities, special needs, and a lack of access to technology. We all have learning centers in our districts that are open specifically to give our students a safe place to learn with access to the internet. Our districts should focus on finding students that need this support, help them get enrolled, then focus on ensuring these facilities are as safe as possible and that adequate, high-quality PPE is provided.”
“I worry about the safety of our staff and students as schools reopen; ASU has given us a look at what can happen even with safety precautions in place. The articles about educators getting COVID and dying are starting to show up and knowing that some of those articles have and will feature AZ educators and students is heartbreaking. I would hope educational institutions would err on the side of science, but unfortunately many are instead caving to parental pressure from a select group.”
Kyrene Elementary School Board Candidate Wanda Kolomyjec
“As Kyrene continues to update their plans for the reopening of schools, I am pleased to see they are incorporating CDC’s guidelines as well as keeping a close eye on Arizona’s COVID-19 infection rates. Combining the best known scientific information along with current infection data is the best way to mitigate the risk to our community while also providing needed instruction and structure to our students. In a crisis such as a pandemic, there is no panacea for perfection, there is only measured and careful response. I believe the Kyrene leadership has been providing this.”
Creighton School Board Candidate Lindsey McCaleb
“I am still very wary about schools re-opening on any large scale. While some areas of Maricopa County may be meeting benchmarks, there are many school districts that are not, and those districts also have students and families who are more high-risk for COVID-19. We also have not yet seen if there have been effects on the spread in districts who have already partially opened in-person, and with bars re-opening in the past week or two, we may see additional spikes again.”
“If school districts feel ready to re-open, I strongly believe the focus should first be on the most high-needs students: those in Special Education and the primary grades (Kindergarten-1st), as those students tend to struggle the most with online learning and have additional need for in-person support during instruction. Staffing will also be an important consideration if schools do not have adequate staff willing to return in-person, then they need to be critically thinking about how they will safely service students.”
“Additionally, despite all plans for social distancing, use of PPE, sanitizing and cleaning procedures, and screening procedures, most schools still have poor air ventilation and filtration systems, and rarely have windows that open. Placing a group of students in a room with recirculated air is a recipe for spreading, regardless of other precautions taken.
School districts and governing boards need to think very carefully about what is realistic to carry out re-opening safely, and what is necessary to meet the needs of students and staff, without being swayed by political and personal opinions.”
Tucson Unified Governing Board Candidate Cindy Winston
“I am pleased that TUSD is willing to move forward as long as PCHD (Pima County Health Department) data is the basis of that decision. As Charles Darwin so eloquently stated, ” It is not the stronger of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” We are definitely seeing this played out on a daily basis. I commend the current school board on all their hard work. #PROUD2BTUSD.”.
Districts should proceed with caution, prudence, follow the science, and incrementally (gradually) reinstitute in-person instruction at schools in a safe manner starting with hybrid attendance models.
They should also be ready to cope with any COVID 19 spikes that may occur, including reverting to solely virtual instruction if necessary.
The state’s children and educators deserve no less.