School Board Members, Health Specialists, and Legislators urge Governor Ducey to delay reopening In Person Instruction at Arizona Schools until October

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Photo from Steven Chapman showing school board members and health care professionals waiting to see Governor Ducey at the State Capitol. The Governor did not meet with them.

Fellow Blog of Arizona writer Carolyn Classen first reported on this event on July 9, 2020.

Yesterday (July 13, 2020) a group of school board members, including Maricopa County School Superintendent Candidate Jeanne Casteen, and health specialists took a letter to Governor Doug Ducey to recommend that he delay the reopening of in-person instruction in the state’s schools until October.

The letter (please click here to read the full document) was signed by 100 school board members and about 1000 health care professionals and education activists.

Citing the surge in COVID 19 in the state, the writers of the letter stated:

“We cannot reopen our schools for on-site learning until we experience a downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period. We want to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, not contribute to higher and higher numbers of outbreaks and deaths in our communities. With this, we ask for the following:

  • Statewide closure of buildings and classrooms until October 1st, or the date on district academic calendars that marks the end of the first quarter of instruction.

* In October, districts may consider reopening buildings and classrooms for in-person learning when we meet agreed-upon levels of COVID-19 data points that show a reduction of risk and infection in our communities.

* In October, districts may reopen buildings and classrooms when we meet agreed-upon safety protocols and requirements, as determined by the Center for Disease Control and the Arizona Department of Health.

* Fund distance learning at the same level as in-person instruction without the requirement to also provide face-to-face classes five days a week.

* Provide clarity and assurance that every school receives 100% of their prior-year funding through the Enrollment Stability Grant, despite the COVID-19 specific related expenses we may incur.

* Waive the 180 instructional day requirement for the school year 2020-2021.

* Suspend the statewide standardized assessment, AzM2, for the school year 2020-2021 and allow districts to use local assessments to track academic progress for accountability purposes.

* Ask the Arizona Department of Education to submit an extension or new waiver for the USDA school lunch program so schools can offer ‘to-go’ meals to students even when campuses are closed.”

The letter ends with:

“We must work together, align with the city, county, and higher education partners to find other ways to keep ALL of our families earning, yet safe and learning as COVID-19 infections continue to reach greater and greater numbers. This is the only way we fight back and reverse the trend of infections and deaths in our state. We thank you for working with us to serve and protect our communities and Arizona families at this unprecedented time.”

During a press conference before delivering the letter, several spoke out on the need to put the safety of all school stakeholders first.

In an article by Carissa Planalp of AZ Family, Chandler Unified School District Governing Board Member Lindsey Love said:

“If you open schools this fall and we see an increase in infections and death, you will have the blood of our students, our teachers, and their families on your hands.”

Dr. Dionne Mills, an obstetrician, and gynecologist commented at the press conference:

This state chose not to think of them as they went to barbeques and parties or to the bars on Mill Avenue and they’re certainly not thinking of them now as they demand that they return to school,”

This event also comes after three instructors in the Hayden Winkleman District have contracted COVID 19. Tragically, one of the teachers, Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd, a first-grade teacher, passed away because of the virus.

Unfortunately, even knowing that this event would occur and the need to reassure education stakeholders, Governor Ducey chose not to meet with the board representatives and healthcare specialists that delivered the letter.

His Director of Communications Patrick Ptak responded to AZ Family and said:

“Our approach since this virus started has been to work with the education community. We’re listening and will be working with Superintendent Hoffman and other education leaders on how and when it’s best to safely re-open schools. “

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman has issued two statements with regards to recent events.

Commenting on social media after the passing of Kimberly Chavez Lopez Boyd, Ms. Hoffman wrote:

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman

“Teachers’ dedication to serving students should not come at high risk. Arizona must do more to slow the spread of COVID19 and ensure a safe re-entry into our classrooms.”

After the event with the school board members and health care professionals, Hoffman issued a statement to AZ Family that read:

“As we all prepare for the upcoming school year, it is critical for decision-makers to listen to and amplify the voices of teachers, school staff, and education leaders. Last month the Arizona Department of Education held a virtual teacher table with educators around the state to discuss their expectations and visions for next school year amid COVID-19. In addition to our Teachers’ Table, ADE has weekly conversations with the Arizona Education Association and other education stakeholders to discuss the process for safely returning to school. I highly encourage all districts and charter schools to invite their educators to the decision-making table as well.”

The subject of school re-openings took up a substantial amount of time in the Democratic Party Legislative District 18 monthly meeting on July 13, 2020, where Maricopa County School Superintendent Jeanne Casteen, Arizona Education Association Vice President Marisol Garcia, Tempe Union Governing Board President Berdetta Hodge, Kyrene School Board member Kevin Walsh, State Representative Mitzi Epstein, State Representative Jennifer Jermaine, and State Senator Sean Bowie all took time to either discuss the earlier event at the state capitol and the perils of prematurely reopening in-person instruction at Arizona’s schools.

All of the speakers were incensed at the situation and faulted Governor Ducey, Republican leadership, and Donald Trump for putting school stakeholders in this perilous situation through opening the state too early and not fully taking steps to ensure timely testing and contact tracing.

Representative Jermaine revealed that she had to wait ten days to get COVID 19 test results. She is fine but angry that it took so long to get the results.

After the LD 18 meeting, she commented:

Legislative District 18 State Representative Jennifer Jermaine

“The testing system is not functioning well.  It is still incredibly difficult to get tested and delays in results cause unnecessary harm to the economy and essential workers who need to self-quarantine until test results come back.  It took 10 days to process my test and get the results.  July 3rd to July 13th.  Before that, it took me two full days of looking for available appointments to find one over 13 miles from my home.  There were no available testing sites in LD18 when I looked for one at the beginning of the month.”

 “We have no clue what our actual infection rate is because of the lack of testing availability and significant delay in processing and reporting results.”

 “We need the Governor and AZDHS Director to spend the money the Legislature appropriated and dramatically ramp up testing and processing capacity. Four months into this pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have these issues with testing.”

 “Our hospitals are operating under crisis standards of care.  That is not a good thing.  It is something that is rarely done outside of battlefield medicine.  We had a nursing shortage before this crisis and delays in processing test results put an even bigger strain on our healthcare system as nurses and doctors are taken out of shift rotation as they wait for their results.  Licensed and available bed space is very very different from staffed bed space.  Without a doctor and nurse, that bed is not able to be used.”

“Crisis standards of care doesn’t just affect COVID patients, it will affect your care if you have a heart attack, stroke, cancer, car accident, or any other emergency medical condition.  No medical professional wants to provide limited care.  No hospital wants to turn people away.”

 “Public health officials from across the country say that PCR positive rates should be less than 5% to reopen in-person schools.  The countries my legislative colleagues are citing as reopening have PCR rates of less than 5%.  Today, July 14th, Maricopa County is sitting at 15.5%.”

 “…..Our LD18 schools have been very proactive in planning for every possible situation.  We have options and we should not unnecessarily gamble with the lives of children, their families, and school personnel.”

She also said last night that she has tried to regularly contact Governor Ducey but has only spoken with his staff.

Representative Jermaine also cited a risk assessment study conducted in Maryland which showed the number of children that will die if schools open up too soon in the first quarter. Maryland has a 7-day average PCR positive rate of 4.63%.  (citation: https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/)

The number of student deaths, depending on the district, ranged from 25 to 260.

The number of staff fatalities ranged from two to twenty-five.

What the hell?

There is no way schools should reopen if any lives are threatened. NOT ONE.

Governor Ducey would do well to spend less time listening to the science-denying Mr. Trump and his associates who spread false narratives about countries (who have successfully tackled the Coronavirus) that have reopened schools and do not seem to care that Arizona educators are falling ill and dying from COVID 19.

He needs to be mindful that parents and children do not want to be thrown into an unsafe situation. He also should be aware that 80 percent of surveyed Arizona teachers do not want to return unless it is safe to do so. Some are even willing to stay home if told to report.

He should convene a special session at the Arizona State Legislature to address the issues facing the people in the state’s education system as well as other COVID 19 related issues like halting evictions, providing health care, extending and increasing unemployment insurance.

The time for the Governor to do this was yesterday or better yet last month.

Today will have to suffice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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