ARIZONA — As virtual learning has started in school districts across the state, parents, educators, doctors and the government all disagree on the best way to move forward for the sake of Arizona’s students. Parents have rallied for schools to reopen while educators and doctors have said the government has not provided clear enough guidelines to do so.
Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services released guidelines for reopening schools earlier this month. In them, they mandated that all Arizona school districts must open one school for in-person learning on Aug. 17 for students with no other place to go.
But a group of educators and physicians argue that the guidelines don’t go nearly far enough to protect students from the spread of the coronavirus. The Committee to Protect Medicare hosted a webinar Monday to discuss the issue. The group, made up of Arizona physicians and education advocates, released school reopening guidelines of their own on July 28. The recommendations can be viewed here.
“We all want to minimize disruptions to our children’s education as much as possible, but also to keep students and school staff safer during a deadly global pandemic, and Gov. Ducey’s benchmarks are inadequate, incomplete and irresponsible,” said Dr. Christine Severance, a mother and family physician in Phoenix. “As a physician, I’d give Gov. Ducey’s plan to reopen schools, like his failed actions to keep COVID-19 under control an ‘F’ for failing to require science- and evidence-based safeguards.”
The group, in their guidelines, recommend requiring students and staff to wear masks — except for the youngest or those with medical conditions, requiring ongoing COVID-19 testing for staff and students, reopening schools for in-person learning only when positivity rates are less than five percent and partnering with public health agencies for contact tracing.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Arizona’s rate of COVID-19 cases in children is 1,098 per 100,000, more than double the overall national rate of 447 per 100,000 children.
Severance pointed out that Georgia schools are “having to make abrupt stops to their in-person learning plans as students test positive” and doesn’t want Arizona to go down the same path.
Educators also feel that the state’s guidelines place too much of the burden on teachers’ shoulders.
“As educators and parents, we are extremely concerned that the people we’ve elected to lead us have given up and left local communities to fend for ourselves,” said Beth Lewis, an educator and cofounder of Save Our Schools Arizona. “Due to decades of budget cuts and slashed funding, our public schools do not have the resources to take on a global pandemic.”
A spokesperson for Ducey did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson from the Arizona Department of Health Services told Patch they could not respond to the Committee to Protect Medicare’s guidelines because they had not seen them. Hoffman tweeted her support of the plan prior to the release of the state’s own guidelines, the committee said.
Hundreds of Arizona parents are ready to have their kids back in the classroom; nearly a thousand people gathered for a rally at the State Capitol Tuesday evening. The “AZ Open Our Schools Rally” was organized for families and educators who are asking for schools to offer in-person learning options.
“We don’t want to force people to do things they don’t want to do but we also don’t want to be forced to do things we don’t want to do, for example, online school,” a woman told the crowd, according to the Arizona Republic.
It seems that some school districts agree.
The Queen Creek Unified School District governing board voted Tuesday to reopen in-person classes on Aug. 17, though parents will have the option to choose to continue distance learning for their children. Same with the J.O. Combs Unified School District in the San Tan Valley. The Tucson Unified School District has also said it will invite high needs special education students, children in foster care, those experiencing homelessness and refugees to newly open schools on Aug. 17, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Others, like the Deer Valley Unified School District, have delayed in-person reopening until October.
The state previously set three guidelines counties are recommended to meet before school districts should consider reopening. Maricopa County currently only meets one requirement while Pima County meets two. No county in Arizona currently meets all three.
While Arizona’s number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are declining, the state reported 706 new cases and 148 new deaths Wednesday — the second highest number of daily deaths since the pandemic began. It remains to be seen whether or not reopening schools will impact those numbers.
This article originally appeared on the Across Arizona Patch