Arizona teachers ask for the state to roll back Aug. 17 date for reopening in-person classes
PHOENIX - On July 15, teachers lined up in a series of “motor marches” around the valley asking state leaders to reconsider beginning in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Right now, the school opening date of Aug.17 has many teachers saying it’s just simply not safe to reopen.
The "motor marches" came on the same day Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman participated in a conference call with Democrats denouncing the president’s calls to reopen schools or face funding cuts.
Sharon Tuttle took part in one of many "motor marches" around the valley urging state leaders to delay in-person learning.
“If we look at Betsy Devos’ rate of 0.2% of kids are going to die of COVID, in the Chandler School District that means 919 kids are going to die. And that’s an entire elementary school campus,” Tuttle said.
She says she’s looking out for her own kids at home.
"I wish we valued the staff and the students more than we do, but I care too much about my 4 kids in the car and my own family to let this happen," she explained.
“Trump's push to reopen schools is completely out of touch with reality on the ground here in Arizona," she remarked.
Hoffman and Governor Doug Ducey have been working closely since the pandemic began.
“When it comes to our schools, the governor and I have been able to put politics aside and I am proud of our collaboration when it comes to issues, education issues and school policies," Hoffman said.
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The governor tweeted out pictures of his meeting with school superintendents on July 15 saying they’ve worked hard to prove flexibility.
As for that August 17 date, Hoffman wasn’t optimistic in-person schooling would begin then.
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“We are actively evaluating that and having conversations that include the Department of Health Services and Dr. Christ because we do want to be leaning on the recommendations of our medical health experts and epidemiologists. At this time I’m not optimistic that Arizona will be ready to open for in-person instruction on August 17," Hoffman explained.
State health officials reported an additional 3,257 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 97 deaths on July 15. The total number of cases now stands at 131,354 with 2,434 deaths. However, the number of cases could be far higher because many people have not been tested, and some can be infected without feeling sick.
Arizona leads the U.S. in new confirmed cases per capita over the past two weeks.
Hospitalizations and ventilator use also remain relatively high with ICU bed capacity around 90%.
In metro Phoenix, most school districts announced plans to begin with distance learning until a fall break. Beyond that, it varies district to district. Some intend to offer a hybrid of remote classes and in-person instruction. Others will allow students to do only in-person or only online learning.
“It’s very confusing,” said Raquel Mamani, a longtime substitute teacher. “We don’t understand why school districts and some teachers feel like we have to go back.”
The Tucson Unified School District plan will also have students learn remotely at least initially when schools restart, either at home or in classrooms. Under the plan presented to the district board Tuesday, there would be monitors in classrooms but some teachers might be elsewhere on campus or working from home, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
“I want to assure you that this mode of instruction won’t be forever,” Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Flori Huitt told the board. “We are adapting to the current circumstances.”
The recent death of a teacher in Gila County weighs heavily on the minds of many of these teachers. Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd, 61, died last month of complications related to COVID-19. The elementary school teacher and two other teachers sharing a classroom while giving virtual lessons all became ill.
“They were all extremely cautious about the safety and yet they still got it,” Robinson said. “We have an educator that’s not with us anymore. That would be the narrative if any district went back.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.