Overcrowded classrooms fueling COVID concerns as more students head back to school

school students
Posted at 3:11 PM, Aug 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-09 20:59:58-04

Destiny Lobos is three weeks into her senior year, currently in a self-imposed quarantine after several of her classmates learned they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

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"My first day of school, the first class I attended, it was packed," said Lobos. "It's very rare that you see a kid wearing a mask."

"Now that this variant is out, it makes me nervous," said Jean Nothstein, Destiny's mom. "She's been getting notifications every day now, three to four in a day."

With some school districts already starting this week, two or three of the new year families and teachers across the Valley have reached out to ABC15 the last several days, expressing serious concerns about classrooms pushing 30, 35, even more than 40 students at a time.

"I said well where are they sitting? He said on the floor again and this time, he allowed them to sit on the table," said Michelle Kelker, who has a son in high school.

Overcrowding is nothing new for Arizona schools and while not every school is experiencing such extreme class sizes, administrators say this year is different. It is a perfect storm of an ongoing teacher shortage, increasing options for parents, and the many unknowns surrounding enrollment.

"Parents have held back the decision-making until almost the first day of school and that's creating that level of uncertainty as to how many teachers do I need? This is particularly evident among kindergarten and first grade," said Mark Joraanstad, executive director of Arizona School Administrators. "Give schools time to sort these things out, and if the first day isn't perfect to understand that it takes a few days sometimes to adjust and solve everything that comes up."

Several districts telling ABC15 enrollment is up from last year but those numbers fluctuate quite a bit during the first 10 days of the new school year. Once they have a more accurate count administrators can start looking to hire more teachers or move students around to bring those class sizes down.

That is assuming, however, there are teachers and additional space available.