PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman says Arizona is “not currently in a place to resume traditional, in-person instruction." But the burden of deciding when it’s time to go back to class still rests with district superintendents – educators who feel unprepared to make that call.

Over the weekend, Gila County was spotlighted in a Washington Post piece. Jeff Gregorich, superintendent of the tiny Hayden Winkelman Unified School District, shared his fears about choosing between bringing people back to school by August 17 when COVID-19 is still out of control, or missing out on 5% of state funding. One of the district’s teachers already died from the virus.

Cave Creek Unified Superintendent Dr. Debbi Burdick is a colleague of Gregorich.

“His words are spot on,” she said. She, too, feels the weight of having to make a decision that will affect the health of so many people.

“We are not medical doctors. We are not health professionals. These are very difficult decisions for us to be making for our school boards,” she said.

Over at Peoria Unified, they’re putting together a medical advisory team this week to look at the question of when returning to class is safe. Mesa Public Schools simply says remote learning will continue until it's safe to go back to class, but there's no official date for when that will be.

“We know that we would have to prioritize and make decisions if we have a higher percentage of families that would like for their children to return to an in-person approach versus the number of staff that we have available to do that,” MPS superintendent Dr. Andi Fourlis said.

Back in Cave Creek, Dr. Burdick says they’re trying to follow all the guidelines from the CDC and health departments, but they just don’t have enough resources.

“I wish we would get more definite guidance from state officials,” she said.

She keeps hearing a 5% test positivity rate as the safe number, but Arizona’s rate is still in the teens. Though health benchmarks and metrics will come out this Friday, the decision of when to come back still rests with educators who wonder how this became their responsibility at all.

“We can make great academic decisions,” Burdick said. “But I don’t think talking about somebody’s health, not knowing all their underlying conditions, are the types of things that we should be deciding.”


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