Cave Creek high school delays return to in-person classes due to lack of staffing

A suburban school district in Cave Creek has put off its plan to return its high school to in-person instruction from remote learning starting Sept. 8.

Cactus Shadows High School Principal Tony Vining announced Sept. 5 that Cave Creek Unified School District's sole high school didn’t “have enough staff to safely open and will need to revert to our distance learning model.”

Vining said in a statement that remote learning would be provided Tuesday when the district would provide an update on “the situation for the rest of the week with our goal to open safely for our students and staff as soon as possible.”

Vining did not immediately respond Saturday to an emailed request for information about the reported staff shortage.

Some Arizona schools have reopened for in-person instruction, but J.O. Combs Unified in San Tan Valley, was thwarted last month because numerous teachers called in sick while voicing concerns about the safety of reopening schools.

The Cave Creek board voted unanimously during a meeting conducted remotely Aug. 31 to resume in-person classes next Tuesday as members acknowledged that many teachers were opposed and that parents was divided on the issue.

On Sept. 3, state officials released updated weekly COVID-19-related metrics providing voluntary guidance to Arizona school districts on whether they should move from remote learning to in-person instruction or a hybrid version with in-person instruction and remote learning.

As expected, Maricopa County, which includes the Cave Creek district and most of metro Phoenix, was among counties elevated to a status where hybrid education was deemed advisable.

“The trend is moving in the right direction and the numbers look good to me,” Cave Creek board member Beth Hatcher said during the board meeting.

Arizona was a national hot spot in June and July, with cases and deaths trending downward since. Declines in several COVID-19 hospitalization metrics reported by the state have slowed recently.

Board member Janet Busbee acknowledged that many of the district’s teachers had reservations about being able to distance in classrooms but said she’d seen social media posts of teachers “standing shoulder to shoulder” at barbecues and boating while not wearing masks.

“That seems like that’s a contradiction,” she said.

Board President Kathryn Hill said reopening was a difficult decision but that it was significant that COVID-19-related hospitalization levels statewide have returned to levels similar to spring.

The state Department of Health Services on Saturday reported 836 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases with 36 additional deaths, increasing the statewide totals to 205,516 cases and 5,207 deaths.

The number of reported infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Students, parents react

Freshman Jaden Grandon says of the news, "We just want to get back so we can be able to socialize with friends and get that good high school experience."

He added, "The board voted to open the school. I thought it was frustrating that they called out after that, especially just before they were supposed to open."

Jaden's father, Jason Grandon, says he feels like the principal was blindsided with the call outs and says schools shouldn't be different from any other business in the state that has opened their doors during the pandemic.

"They have been out since March 15, the schools have had plenty of time and I feel for all the schools but you know what, all the benchmarks have been met. We see people out at restaurants, the gyms are open and churches are open, everything is open. It's time for a sense of normalcy," his father said.  

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