With Betsy DeVos coming to Arizona, Education and Political Leaders discuss the challenges of reopening schools for In Person Instruction

The Arizona Democratic Party hosted a press call “on Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’s  reckless threat to force schools to reopen without a plan to keep students, families, teachers, and staff safe.”

Ms. DeVos, the Secretary of Education, will be in Arizona tomorrow to attend a closed-door virtual meeting of the Federalist Society.

Apparently meeting with educators to discuss the reopening of schools is not on her agenda.

She is definitely, as of now, not meeting with the people who participated in the press call. They were:

  • Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman
  • Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas
  • Legislative District 29 State Senator Martín Quezada
  • 2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year Kareem Neal

All four panelists echoed the desire to return to normal to where Mr. Thomas said, during the question and answer session, “a safe school and a quality education to every area in the state.”

Superintendent Hoffman, during her remarks, said, “together with empathy and patience, we will get through this together.”

Harsh Words on Donald Trump

The four participants all had harsh words for Donald Trump and his desire to reopen schools and damn the safety requirements.

Superintendent Hoffman commented that Mr. Trumps rush to reopen schools:

  • “Lacked empathy for our educators and lacked understanding of public health with Arizona reporting highest numbers yet….”
  • “Would risk the lives of children and educators.”
  • “Completely out of touch with reality…His threats are not welcome here in our state.”
  • “Lack of compassion not welcome by educators and myself.”

Mr. Thomas and Mr. Neal also condemned Mr. Trump’s and Ms. DeVos’s visible indifference to the death of Hayden Winkleman second grade teacher Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd with the AEA President commenting that Trump expects teachers and students to sacrifice their personal safety.

Mr. Neal, who works in an area (Maryvale) with the second highest rates of COVID 19 infections, commented “It would be nice if Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos ever had our backs” and “A person who is supposed to be our President is not thinking about our safety.”

Senator Quezada and AEA President Thomas all had harsh words for Governor Doug Ducey, faulting him for catering too much to Donald Trump’s science-denying whims and reopening the state too early.

The Legislative District 29 State Senator remarked that “COVID 19 exacerbated societal issues and thanks to Trump, DEVOS, and Ducey, have endangered lives.”

When and How to Reopen Schools?

Everyone on the panel agreed that in-person instruction should not happen, with the current COVID 19 conditions on the ground, in the immediate and foreseeable future.

Mr. Neal voiced particular concern for the special education students in his school, saying that some of them have preexisting health conditions that would make in-person attendance risky.

Superintendent Hoffman said that “it is clear that it is not agreeable to reopen in person now with high community spread and positivity.” She also commented that “we (including Ducey) are in the process of revaluating August 17 reopening in-person date. Later she said, after crediting the Governor with having “open ears” with regards to public health and needs in the schools that “a decision (on in-person reopening should come soon.”

Mr. Thomas outlined several points that he wants the Governor and local school boards to consider so to lower the spread of the virus. This includes:

  • Starting the school year in all virtual digital format, then shifting to a hybrid where some in-person instruction is introduced. Then, when all is safe, resuming in-person instruction.
  • Push back on standardized testing for a year
  • Invest in protective equipment and safe schools.
  • Employees with health conditions need to be given flexibility on how to accomplish their work responsibilities.

The AEA President also reminded the audience of the results of a recently released survey where 90 percent of schoolteachers want to put safety first before reopening and 80 percent signaled, they would conduct in-person instruction when the school is pronounced safe to occupy.

Moving Forward to Reduce Inequities that have been Intensified.

Everyone on the panel agreed that already existing educational inequities, especially in rural and Native American parts of the state have intensified since the appearance of the Coronavirus.

Senator Quezada commented that “way too many working families living paycheck to paycheck who are on the brink of financial collapse.”

 In rural communities, the Superintendent acknowledged that no community “was untouched, especially Yuma and rural communities that are close-knit.” She also relayed that “access to resources, especially in the Navajo Nation, is a challenge and in a more severe way, including the digital divide. We are dedicated to working on this. Truly my heart goes out to parents and family members who have been more impacted by this crisis.”

 Later, Ms. Hoffman stated:

“We already know that tremendous inequities have already resulted. Going forward, these challenges are going to persist. We need to invest more in reducing the digital divide and get more from the state and federal sources. Our department has started to create a list of those most impacted and most on the top of the list are those from Native American nations.”

“Our goal is to get back in the classroom and we are grieving that with current conditions, we cannot do that right away.”

Largely echoing Superintendent Hoffman, Mr. Thomas said:

“The public school is the center of the small-town community. It is far more personal because of the close-knit of the rural communities. This is a major concern to the Superintendent and me. We have to deliver a safe school and a quality education to every area in the state and not just the urban areas.”

The idea that Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have to reopen schools across the county without regard to the health conditions on the ground is sociopathic, callous, moronic, insane, potentially criminal, and monstrous.

Hopefully, Superintendent Hoffman’s assessment of Governor Ducey’s “open ears” on public health in schools, especially with the knowledge that potentially 80 percent of Arizona’s teachers are not willing to return to a potential pandemic hotspot, will prove correct.

Children and educators should not have to attend in-person instruction until it is determined that is safe to do so in their local area.

Any other option should not even be considered.