PEORIA, Ariz. - Whether it is safe for students and teachers to be in the classroom right now, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Arizona and elsewhere, has been a testy topic.
In Arizona, there is no statewide mandate on how schools should handle this latest surge, so it is up to each district to decide the path forward, with some bypassing county guidelines and some sticking to them.
In many West Valley schools, in-person learning is still ongoing.
"The board met December 10 and voted to remain open for this semester, regardless of the benchmarks," said Danielle Airey, Chief Communications Officer with the Peoria Unified School District. "We have about two-thirds of families that have chosen the in-person experience."
Despite Maricopa County metrics showing substantial spread, Peoria Unified is one of a few districts where students are still learning in the classroom. The district has a hybrid model, where families can choose between in-person or virtual learning.
Peoria Unified officials have enhanced their disinfecting and deep cleaning measures in the classrooms.
"We’ve also added air purifiers in every single classroom so that is new as well," said Airey. "We’re rolling them out throughout this week."
Teachers threaten sickout
Despite the measures taken by Peoria Unified officials, teachers there are threatening to stage a sickout on Jan. 11.
On the district's website Jan. 10, it was announced some schools will close due to not having enough staffing.
"The board decided to throw the metrics out, and they threw them out right before Peoria hit all red," said Trina Berg, President of the Peoria Education Association.
Teachers there say a vote by Peoria Unified's governing board to "not follow county health metrics and guidelines" sends a message to teachers that their health and safety are not valued. Berg said more than 500 teachers have indicated that they would participate in a one-day sickout.
"We don’t want to be home either, unless we have to be. We want to be in front of our students, but there are a large number of students, community spread is very high right now," said Berg. "We want something in place that says if things get bad enough, that we understand the safety of our staff is important and we would shut things down if needed. Right now, we don’t have that. We don’t have that safeguard."
The planned sickout in Peoria comes just days after some teachers in the East Valley threatened to take similar actions.
Chandler Unified School District was scheduled to return to in-person learning on Jan. 5, but teachers rallied on Jan. 4 and successfully persuaded the district's governing board to change its course. As a result, the school district will return to in-person learning. Meanwhile, officials with Gilbert Public Schools also voted to go to a hybrid schedule on Jan. 4.
Meanwhile, parents in Peoria say they are grateful their kids are still in the classroom, but they support their teachers.
"I absolutely support them. I understand their concerns about health," said Kill Melaragin, President of the Peoria United Parent Council. "I believe that if this were to happen, the district would be well prepared to get us back into a virtual learning situation quickly. Both of my children have been quarantined at times, so off-and-on of virtual has been seamless."
Peoria Unified officials have responded to the planned sickout via a statement, which reads, in part:
"We are actively monitoring our staff absences, as well as the availability of substitutes or support staff that are qualified to cover classes."
On the night of Jan. 10, Peoria Unified School District officials announced there will not be enough staffing to safely open the following schools on Jan. 11:
Peoria High School (PFA and MET will remain open)
Raymond S. Kellis
The closures, according to officials, will impact both in-person and virtual instructions at the schools.
Day camps and a childcare location will be made available. More information can be found at www.peoriaunified.org/updates.
Tune in to FOX 10 Phoenix for the latest news:
Get the latest coronavirus news by downloading the FOX 10 News App. Our promise is that our alerts are there to inform you - not scare you.
Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu.
Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever.
Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.
CDC Website for COVID-19
https://espanol.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html (In Spanish/En Español)
AZDHS Website for COVID-19