Arizona Educators Anxious As School Year Approaches With No Set Plan For Learning Amid The Pandemic
The Arizona Department of Health services reported 3,349 new coronavirus cases around the state July 24, bringing the total to more than 156,000. And 79 more Arizonans have reportedly died from the virus.
The amount of infections marks a large increase over figures reported earlier in the week. But it’s worth noting that the amount of tests also increased significantly July 24 as labs work through a backlog.
As numbers continue to rise, Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced July 23 they were pulling back on the August 17 target date to reopen schools statewide.
Now, they say science will lead the way.
“And Arizona has the opportunity to lead the nation. And that’s Superintendent Hoffman’s and my goal: To make Arizona a model state in this situation, providing the best learning experience to kids in the safest environment during this crisis," Ducey said.
For now, districts and charter schools must start their academic years with distance learning.
Hoffman said they are expected to provide free on-site learning options for students who need a place to go. Some exceptions will be made.
But the announcement was an effort to provide more clarity in general — especially after weeks of sometimes conflicting messages from the state.
“So, a couple weeks ago, it was more a question of when can our schools open, when can we all open together and get back into the classroom," Hoffman said. "And at this time, we don’t know when that date is. It’s not reasonable to set a date because, as you’ve seen what’s happened, then in a couple of weeks we might have another press conference like this and set another date. And so, we really wanted to avoid that type of situation.”
Marisol Garcia is the vice president of the Arizona Education Association. She said the association and teachers they represent had a mixed reaction to the July 23 announcement.
She’s glad to hear science will determine when schools fully reopen again, but the anxiety educators are feeling will remain for the next few weeks — at least.
“I think that the anxiety that comes along with ‘in two weeks this may change, in another two weeks that may change again’ — who knows what’s going to happen?" Garcia said. "And so, we were hoping yesterday that there would be a comprehensive plan that people could sink their teeth into and know what to expect.”
Garcia said teachers are hoping additional guidance expected on Aug. 7 will provide more clarity. But she and others left the July 23 press conference with more questions than answers.
While she’s confident her colleagues will provide the best education possible, she said it’s hard not to reflect on the problems that have existed for years and how they have compounded during the pandemic.
“You know, our state has really neglected funding public schools," Garcia said. "I think the transition into going from digital back to person would be a lot easier conversation if we didn’t have some of the highest levels of class size in the country. So, it might be easier for teachers to envision coming in and knowing that there are still some safety precautions that could be mitigated with actual social distancing.”
For now, Garcia, educators like her and the families they serve will have to wait and see if the current plan holds.