TOLLESON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - As schools in Queen Creek return to campus, many other districts across Arizona requested a waiver, so they don't have to provide any campus services. If you recall, Gov. Doug Ducey's executive order, 2020-51, required districts across the state to offer free, in-person support services for students in need starting Monday, Aug. 17.
But a lot of districts still don't think that's in the best interest of their students and staff.
“There's nothing more that we want than to open every one of our schools. We know that is the best education for our students,” said Nora Gutierrez, superintendent of the Tolleson Union High School District.
Joe Thomas, the President of the Arizona Education Association, told Arizona's Family that the state already has a teacher shortage from last year, and this pandemic, Thomas said, could force more teachers out if districts open up schools too soon.
Like every other district in Arizona, TUHSD spent the last several weeks preparing to offer free in-person support services for students in need. However, the superintendent says the public health data did not support such a move.
“We know we cannot do that safely, not for any students, and we're not going to put any of our students or staff at risk,” said Gutierrez.
Families were informed Friday that the Arizona Department of Education approved a district waiver of the requirement to offer on-site learning opportunities.
The waiver cites the high transmission rates for COVID-19 within district boundaries and both the state and county health departments agreed.
“For Tolleson Union High School District, our numbers are extremely high. There is not even a little bit of hope that we could open safely,” said Gutierrez.
A toll to monitor your school district's reopening criteria is available now through Maricopa county. Data will be updated weekly on Thursdays at 4 p.m.
The most recent data from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health Dashboard for School Benchmarks lists the overall risk level as "substantial," recommending virtual learning with on-site support.
It shows Tolleson has about 235 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people with roughly a 19% positivity rate within the district's boundaries.
“I am extremely fortunate that I have a governing board who, without a doubt, supports the decisions made to keep our students and our staff healthy and well,” said Gutierrez.
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.
Tolleson is one of 13 districts statewide to receive a waiver, good for 30 days.
“My hope is, Sept. 21, we are in the 5% range of positivity and we would be able to open safely; however that is highly unlikely,” said Gutierrez.
TUHSD plans to stick with online learning through the first quarter but is prepared to return sooner if they meet those health safety benchmarks.