By the governor’s hand, kids and families are entering the classroom with little safety net when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
For one Valley mom, it’s a “hope for the best” mindset when her son steps through those doors.
August is still one week away, when the majority of schools are welcoming students back, and yet COVID-19 is getting a head start with increasing cases across Maricopa County.
"We’re definitely uneasy," said Ellie Crystal, who is preparing to send her 13-year-old son, Ethan, to Altadena Middle School in the Kyrene School District on Thursday.
"[I] worry about the community and worry about disruption in school, going back and forth from virtual," Crystal said.
Ethan is vaccinated, but Crystal said only a small percentage of his friends have received the COVID-19 vaccine, which is approved for children 12 years old and older. He'll be jumping in with both feet into a full day of classes and activities.
"No cohorts and, you know, 30 kids per classroom and my son’s going to be going to six different classrooms per day. Cafeteria open, he’s in chorus. He’s singing," said Crystal.
The numbers are in, and COVID-19 still has a firm grasp on Maricopa County schools.
According to the county’s public health dashboard, a majority of districts are in areas of high transmission.
Since the start of the new school year, four schools already have COVID-19 outbreaks, which are defined as two or more cases at the same time.
With COVID-19 vaccines only approved for children 12 and older, a large portion of students are unvaccinated.
"If your child is vaccinated, you have that assurance that you know if they get COVID and it’s a breakthrough infection you’re looking at potentially a couple days of flu-like symptoms as opposed to the possibility of hospitalizations or worse," said Dr. Gary Kirkilas, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children's Hospital.
Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order prohibiting schools from requiring students to wear masks and discriminating against students who aren't vaccinated. That executive order is not sitting well with the Arizona School Board Association.
"The Governor's attempt to ignore the metrics and dictate schools to do something that puts the lives of students, families, and employees in danger is a clear indication politics is more important than saving lives," said Heidi Otero, Director of Communications for the Arizona School Board Association.
"At the local level, districts are going to be afraid of retaliation by the community for closing down schools even if the metrics are in red (which they currently are) which caused an uproar and harassment during board meetings and for some board members personally for using safety protocols like masking," she said.
Schools cannot force quarantine for an unvaccinated student who is exposed to COVID-19. That is a parent's decision.