PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- School board members from across the state were joined by medical professionals Monday urging Gov. Doug Ducey to put off opening schools until at least October.
The group says more than 100 school board members signed off on the letter, in addition to about 1,000 healthcare workers and education advocates. They spoke outside the state capital before delivering the letter to the governor’s office.
“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,” said Lindsay Love with the governing board for Chandler Unified School District.
The letter the board members signed off on, had the following demands:
- Statewide closure of buildings and classrooms until October 1, 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 receive 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 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.
As it stands, districts can begin offering in-person instruction on August 17, but some teachers have argued it’s not safe to be in class with kids amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Arizona. Some districts have plans to go completely virtual while others plan to have a mix of online learning and in-person instruction.
“If there's one thing this pandemic has shown us is that it has highlighted the inequities that have existed for decades in communities of color,” said Devin del Palacio, governing board member for Tolleson Union High School District. “Many of our students live in generational family homes where they have grandparents, aunts and uncles living there, and it would be devastating to get a whole unit ill.”
The letter for Ducey also calls for increased funding for districts to support online learning with equipment and internet access.
Physicians spoke at the capital insisting students and their families must be protected.
“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,” said Dr. Dionne Mills, an obstetrician and gynecologist.
Patrick Ptak, the director of communications at the governor's office, reached out to Arizona's Family with the following response:
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.
Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman also issued the following statement:
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.