Back to school in Queen Creek

It was day one back on campus for students in the Queen Creek district.

QUEEN CREEK, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – Although it hasn’t met the health benchmarks for reopening and dozens of teachers have resigned, the Queen Creek Unified School District welcomed thousands of students back to its campuses Monday.

🔗 Arizona’s School Authority

According to Stephanie Ingersoll, a spokeswoman for QCUSD, there are an estimated 10,000 students enrolled in the District and approximately 14 percent of them as of Sunday, are enrolled in the District’s virtual academy.

Ahead of Monday’s classes, there were no signs of staffing issues.

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"I know my son will be fine in school," said Andrea Polyak as she dropped off her son Nathan at Queen Creek High. "I've sent him with masks and disinfectant. ... I have confidence in our school that they're doing the best thing for our students."

Nathan was happy to be back, too. "It's been really lonely at home, sitting in the Zoom classes," he said. "I feel like it's just better overall if we just go into class and learn there."

"I know what's best for my family," Polyak said, explaining that some have been critical of her decision. "Those that are very opposed to going back have told me that I'm stupid, I'm an idiot, uneducated, and that he's going to come home in a body bag. I don't think that's right."

She said Nathan is ready to be back at school and that she is supportive of that.

Jacqui Schlink, who has two kids at Frances Brandon Pickett Elementary School, agrees. “Kids are not the … super-spreaders [of COVID-19],” she said. “And kids don’t get as sick as adults, in general. … We think that the benefits of going to school greatly outweigh the risks of going to school.”

Her daughter, who is starting third grade, is happy to be back. Macie described online learning, which she's been doing for the past two weeks, as "terrible." "I feel better going to school than doing online," the little girl said.

"Coronavirus isn't going away," Schlink continued. "We’ve learned to live with it in all other aspects of our life … ."

While some parents are happy to send their kids back to school, others are opting to keep their students at home. “We’re not sending our kids back to school yet because it’s just not safe yet,” said Jamie Sears, who has four teens at Queen Creek High School. “Although my kids – they miss their friends and they don’t love learning online – want to go back to normal, we just know that we aren’t back to normal yet. I just don’t want to have to take one of my kids to the funeral of their teacher or their best friend of a family member. We’re doing what we feel like is safest for our kids.”

“I think it’s irresponsible [to open schools],” Sears continued. “I don’t think [Queen Creek HS] is ready to handle 2,000 students safely.”

The District says it has protocols in place to keep students as safe as possible. Sears also said she’s not happy with the District’s online option. “We used the Virtual Academy during the spring, and I think the biggest issue is it’s not being taught by a teacher from the District,” she said. “My kids can’t raise their hand and ask a question, and it’s super boring to them.”

Because of that, Sears said her kids will do home-schooling for the first semester.

Ben Shields, another Queen Creek parent, says the District did not offer much in the way of options.“Basically, it was [in-person] or online for the whole semester. There was no in-between,” he said. “They were pretty cut-and-dried about it.”

Shields said he has congestive heart failure, which puts him at high risk for complications should he get COVID-19. The family also has a baby. He said he wishes the District had given families more notice reopening schools and that the District had decided, like other districts, to wait until October to open. He also would have liked to slowly transition his kids from online to in-person learning.“It’s either online or in-person – right now. That’s it,” he said.

“We’re kind of like the guinea pigs for every other school too. They’re kind of using Queen Creek opening to see if other schools can open,” said Olivia Oberly, a junior at Queen Creek High School.

Oberly was was excited to see her friends, but she noticed a teacher shortage right away, and had a sub for the first day of class.“I had one, but all of my friends had at least one sub,” she said.  “I wish they would have waited so we could have a teacher for the year instead of a substitute, and then another substitute, and then maybe a teacher,” she said.

Oberly said they did take their temperature and try to make things safer on campus. “We had to put our masks on as soon as we set foot on campus…not in the parking lot…it was just once we stepped into the courtyard,” she said.  “We had directional arrows and tape for our hallways to only go one way so there wasn’t a bunch of traffic.”

But she said social distancing in classrooms wasn't as strict as it should have been. “You know what, they never put the desks apart or anything. They were normal; we just had to wear our masks,” she said.

“Have they told you what happens if somebody in your class tests positive?” asked reporter Briana Whitney. “No. They haven’t even covered that,” Oberly said.

The Queen Creek Unified School District is comprised of 12 campuses and a virtual academy.

  • Desert Mountain Elementary School (K-6)
  • Faith Mather Sossaman Elementary School (K-6)
  • Frances Brandon Pickett Elementary (K–6)
  • Gateway Polytechnic Academy (Preschool–6)
  • Jack Barnes Elementary (K–6)
  • Katherine Mecham Barney Elementary (Preschool–6)
  • Queen Creek Elementary (Preschool–6)
  • Silver Valley Elementary (Preschool–6)
  • Newell Barney Junior High School (7–8)
  • Queen Creek Junior High School (7–8)
  • Eastmark High School (7–11)
  • Queen Creek High School (9–12)

MORE STORIES ABOUT QUEEN CREEK UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

A principal in Queen Creek talks about reopening plans amid COVID-19 pandemic
Queen Creek teachers weigh in on the start of in-person learning
Gov. Ducey backs schools that ignore him
Queen Creek Unified to buy COVID-19 insurance, coverage hinges on 'guidelines'
 

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