SURPRISE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Parents and teachers in the West Valley are voicing concerns about in-person learning. Students in Dysart Unified School District and Peoria Unified School District returned to the classroom this week despite COVID-19 cases surging. While Dysart Unified held an emergency board meeting Wednesday evening, dozens of people lined the streets, making their voices heard.
"We wanted to get their attention and say we are concerned. Teachers are concerned about their own safety. Parents are concerned about the community's safety," said Tina Mollica, a parent in Dysart Unified.
One Dysart teacher we spoke with, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she feels caught between choosing her career and health.
"My choice was to quit or go back to another district, and that is not what I wanted to do. I live out in this community. My kids go to schools in the community. I really like my school," she said.
The educator says the district isn't following the state's health benchmarks. She is concerned everyone's safety is on the line as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge in our state.
"I contemplate calling out sick every single day. I don't know if it's the right decision to come in and be exposed to 90 kids every day," she said.
Meantime, parents in Peoria Unified share the same frustrations. Rachel Nowakowski said families in the district had to choose between in-person and virtual learning back in November. Now, as COVID-19 cases skyrocket, she is unsure if her three kids can go back to online learning.
"I feel betrayed because I thought they would go back, I thought if the numbers were high, they would have them go virtual," said Nowakowski.
A spokesperson with Peoria Unified School District sent Arizona's Family this statement:
"Families can work with their school to determine if there is space to switch from one learning experience to another. It very much depends on the staffing at each school site. Many area able to accommodate the change, but again, it is dependent on our available staff at each site. We are making every effort to work with families on each request.
The Board decided to proceed with our current hybrid option – offering both in-person and virtual learning – in December. They also indicated at that time that they would revisit the metrics at their first meeting in January, which is next week."
Meantime, Dysart board members received legal advice for in-person learning on Wednesday. A spokesperson with the district says the health and safety our their students and staff is the top priority. The district provided this statement:
"Since September 19, Dysart has provided both in-person and full-time online learning options for students, and families have been given the opportunity to switch formats if needed. Our current model of offering both in-person and online classes has worked well, and allows us to best meet the needs of each of our families that are in different situations and with varying comfort levels."
Teachers and parents from both districts tell Arizona's Family they want to see schools go back online full time until cases go down.
"I would like to see us go virtual for at least two weeks. I think they need to show teachers that they care. We have teachers that are in the hospital on ventilators and the district has not addressed it," said the Dysart educator.