Opinions differ in debate over reopening of schools amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there is a debate on how to safely reopen schools in the fall, as the traditional summer break period is about to come to a close.

Reopening schools is a question that has exploded into national debate, perhaps even more intense in Arizona due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. On July 8, President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funding if America's schools don’t reopen in the fall.

The topic appears to become more politically charged by the day. On July 9, members of the House Freedom Caucus plan to call on President Trump and state officials to reopen schools in the fall for in-person learning.

Arizona School Superintendent, education union officials speak out

Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, released a statement on July 7 in response to the White House Summit on Safely Reopening Schools.

In the statement, Hoffman wrote, in part, that the summit "...did not reflect the magnitude or severity of Arizona’s growing health care crisis. For Arizona to reopen school facilities for in-person learning, we must first get COVID-19 under control."

Joe Thomas, President of the Arizona Education Association, also spoke out about a return to in-person learning.

“We cannot put 1.1 million school children and 100,000 educators back into school buildings," said Thomas.

An AEA survey of more than 7,000 teachers found that a majority of members doubted it was safe to return to the classroom right now.

“This is a health crisis, we have to remember that, a health crisis that is driving a crisis in education, and so, we have to take care of that first, and we will eventually be back in our schools, but it’s not going to be until we see those virus numbers go down significantly," said Thomas.

Arizona parents, teachers have differing opinions on reopening schools

Beth Lewis, a teacher in Teme, says Arizona is not ready.

"At this point, the data is hard to argue with," said Lewis. "We are the worst hotspot, not only in the whole country but in the whole world. I personally am not comfortable returning in person."

On Facebook, FOX 10 found some parents who want schools to reopen in person.

A San Tan Valley father of a second-grader says his son is struggling in school, and needs an in-person classroom education.

The father, who did not want to be identified, also does not want his son to wear a mask at school.

"I feel teachers and parents that don’t want their kids to go to school and want to go online, they should be allowed to have that option," said the father. "I feel for teachers that do want to get back in the classroom, and for parents who also want their kids in the classroom. It should be our choice as well."

Mother in Phoenix speaks out against mask mandate

Meanwhile, one mother, Libby Prideaux, hopes there's a way classes can shrink. Prideaux has two children in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, and she believes in-person teaching environment is crucial.

"Are they doing anything to try to limit the number of students that are in direct contact with each other?" asked Prideaux. "I still think it's incredibly important for them to go and have some kind of contact and be in that environment."

Prideaux, who works from home, said the past semester was a challenge to help her children get work done.

"They would email the assignments. The assignments would be posted, and it would just be left up to the parent to complete it all," said Prideaux.

Prideaux, like the San Tan Valley father, is also against any potential mask mandates.

"Six to eight hours for a child with a mask on, I think is a lot to ask, and just for my personal health choices, I wouldn't want my child to have to do that," said Prideaux.

Psychologist speaks of need for in-person learning

"I’ve witnessed in the teenagers that I see an increase in anxiety and depression and other problems related to the schools being closed," said psychologist Sarah Edmonds.

Edmonds, who is from Flagstaff, says there is a need for in-person learning.

“Social interaction is really important for all people, including children and teenagers, and I think learning is compromised to a certain degree if it’s only online. My daughter attends a performing arts charter school, and it’s really difficult to have the same experiences in dance and theater online as one would have in-person," said Edmonds. "Ideally, I’d like to see an in-person option in all schools, so if children and their parents wish to attend in person, that that’s a possibility."

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