PHOENIX — It has been a tense couple of days centered around reopening schools.
Superintendent Kathy Hoffman first turned some heads on Tuesday when she essentially called for more aggressive action from the governor and public health officials to slow the spread of COVID-19. That letter, also saying discussions at Tuesday's White House Summit on Safely Reopening America's Schools, "did not reflect the magnitude or severity of Arizona's growing public health crisis."
President Trump said during an education roundtable Tuesday that keeping schools closed could be considered a “political move” and that he is going to urge governors and others across the country to fully reopen schools.
Fast forward to Wednesday and more comments from Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy Devos during a Coronavirus Task Force briefing held at the Department of Education.
President Trump also tweeting that he "disagrees with the CDC's tough and expensive guidelines for opening schools," and pinning extended school closures on partisan politics.
Superintendent Hoffman's office sent a statement to ABC15 Wednesday in response, saying:
"Like all educators, I share a strong desire to get our students back in the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so. In-person instruction is critical to the social, emotional, and academic development of children. However, we cannot ignore the severity of COVID-19 in our state and how that impacts adults and children alike in our school communities. Reopening our schools will require statewide action and personal responsibility. I urge all Arizonans to stay home, maintain physical distancing, wash your hands, and wear a mask when you are in public. Together, we must ensure the conditions are met for our students and educators to return to the classroom safely."
Also on Wednesday Vice President Pence said new CDC guidelines for reopening schools would be coming next week. The Arizona Department of Education is saying it will review any new guidance from the CDC and adjust its recommendations if appropriate or necessary to do so.
ABC15 spoke to several Valley parents Wednesday who expressed concern about sending their children back to in-person classes.
Laura Bey's two children attend Washington Elementary School District in Phoenix. Her 3rd and 7th graders don't like online learning, but she said staying at home is the best choice for them.
"I know my kids enjoy socializing, meeting with their friends, eating lunch, playing and everything," said Bey. "I don't want them to be exposed to it."
This means Bey has to stay home and she can't work like she used to.
"We don't have everything that we used to have financially, and my kids are not learning at 100% but overall what I think--I'd rather have my kids alive," said Bey. "It's a really tough decision."
Erin Baker in Chandler also chose to keep her kids home for online learning, saying she's lucky she can work from home. Her children are in the Chandler Unified School District.
"It's very risky, I'd rather just open that spot for somebody who doesn't have a choice--their kid can't do online," said Baker.
She's hoping eventually, both her children can go back to school.
"I feel fortunate. We have resources that we need--computer and internet. But the bigger picture stresses me out because I really feel like school is the fabric of society, and I don't understand how they're going to make this work."
Merle Sepulveda's two oldest kids are supposed to go back to Saint John Vianney Catholic School in Goodyear, but she's opting for virtual learning or homeschooling. Her 7-year-old has had multiple health problems and says for her family, it makes the most sense to keep the 12-year-old home as well.
"I'm afraid, honestly," she said. "I don't there's enough protection for them to be out there, we've kept them at the house for three months."
In May, the CDC issued guidelines for schools to follow during the pandemic.
The guidance calls for schools to monitor community spread of the coronavirus. In areas without community spread, schools are to monitor for absenteeism, continue with intense cleaning protocol, and require sick students and staff to stay home.
In the case of confirmed cases at schools in areas without community spread, the CDC recommends that schools assess the risk and prepare to close for 2-5 day periods if need be.
But in areas with significant community spread, schools are encouraged to undergo extensive social distancing measures, including extended closures.
Click here for the latest information on how districts across the Valley are planning to reopen for the upcoming school year.
Read Superintendent Hoffman’s full statement in response to the White House Tuesday below:
"Educators, school staff, and families share the goal of reopening our schools and returning students to the classroom to ensure their physical, academic, social, and emotional needs are met. Like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, teachers know that the best place for our students to learn is in the classroom. However, today's discussion at the White House Summit on Safely Reopening America's Schools did not reflect the magnitude or severity of Arizona's growing public health crisis.
"For Arizona to reopen school facilities for in-person learning, we must first get COVID-19 under control. In the last two weeks, our confirmed cases doubled from 50,000 to 100,000. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are up, and critical care services such as ventilators are at a record high use. The positivity rate in testing is between 25 percent to 30 percent - quadruple the 5 percent that experts recommend for making informed decisions about reopening. Today, Arizona has the highest infection rate per capita than any other state in the country - including New York during its April peak.
"And while young students may be at lower risk for infection, the educators who make learning possible - including instructional aides, librarians, bus drivers, nutrition workers, and more - are at risk, as are students with medical conditions. Those valued members of our schools need more assurances that schools and communities have the resources they need to stop the virus from spreading widely through their communities. Given Arizona's rising case numbers and the fact that Arizona remains open, I cannot provide those assurances for the adults and students who are medically vulnerable in our school communities at this time.
"I welcome more aggressive action from Governor Ducey and our public health officials to help mitigate the virus's spread. The reality of COVID-19 in Arizona means that reopening schools will be a community effort in which we all have a role to play. Stay home, maintain physical distancing, wash your hands, and wear a mask when you are in public. It is only with statewide action and personal responsibility that we will find a pathway forward for our students and educators to return to the classroom."