J.O. Combs Unified rolls back choice to begin in-person classes on time, protests held

A school district in the Valley was set to start in-person learning Monday, Aug. 17, but later decided to roll back its decision due to a lack of teachers wanting to return because of COVID-19 health concerns.

The J.O. Combs Unified School District was faced with protests by students, parents and teachers Monday morning who are against the school district's decision to keep classes virtual.

Students held signs saying, "I want to go to school," as they marched toward the district office.

"That model requires a teacher to be in front of kids whether virtually or in-person. That is why it was critical to have staff in every classroom," said Greg Wyman, the district's superintendent.

But teachers made their voices heard telling the district they didn't feel safe making a return to the classrom this fall, which ultimately forced the district to roll back their decision to begin in-person classes.

"We had a significant amount of staff call in. It got to a point where we would not have enough adults to cover the classrooms for the students in the classroom," Wyman said.

Dave Nelson is a teacher at Combs High School and says before this decision was made, he didn't know if he was going to continue teaching. Now, he says he's thankful he won't have to put his or his student's health in jeopardy.

"It was never our intent to cancel instruction," Nelson said, adding, "Our goal is to slow down, meet the metrics, minimize the danger and risk for all those involved."

Nelson says he wants to get back to school, too. "I want to be in front of my kids more than anybody and to think we don't is totally a misconception and it is an insult to a majority of educators."

The district doesn’t have a set date for in-person learning yet. It said it will be updating parents and teachers on a new plan in the next few days, but classes Aug. 18 and 19 are also canceled.

Wyman, the district's superintendent, says it's a very difficult situation because while businesses have mandates on when they can open, schools have been given recommendations and whatever decision they make, he says they will be upsetting someone.

A statement released by the district Aug. 17 reads:

"Our Superintendent continues to engage in ongoing conversations with the Combs Education Association as well as our families to address concerns regarding the return to school. We’re sensitive to the feedback of our staff, as well as our community, and are working nonstop to find solutions to the polarizing and challenging issues currently facing school districts throughout the state and country.

While we continue to work diligently on this matter, we also continue to receive a high volume of staff absences, and in turn will have to cancel all classes on Tuesday as well as Wednesday. A Governing Board meeting will be scheduled for Wednesday evening at 6:00pm to discuss next steps and options for a return to school. We are fully aware that a timely resolution to this matter is critical, and are committed to providing updates to our families as soon as they are available.

The provision of quality instruction for our students is our highest priority and we will continue to work day and night to find a resolution to this issue so that we can minimize the disruption to our families and students."