PHOENIX — As coronavirus cases rise across Arizona and several districts and schools returned students to virtual learning this week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, and Arizona Department of Health Services Director, Dr. Cara Christ, urged the public to continue to follow prevention measures.
The two were also joined by superintendents from the Vail School District, Mesa Public Schools and the Roosevelt School districts.
Despite saying cases are on the rise once again, Dr. Christ did not announce any new measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Arizona's top public health official warns of rising cases and ADHS remains on 'high alert'.— Nicole Grigg (@NicoleSGrigg) November 9, 2020
I asked if cases are rising, on high alert, then why no measures.
A:'but we are discussing mitigation strategies for when counties do move back into substantial..'
Dr. Christ urged people to limit holiday gatherings, and hold them outside if you are going to have them. She also urged people to hold Zoom interactions with family members instead of having a large gathering on Thanksgiving.
Monday's briefing highlighted the challenges districts are currently facing, while reinforcing the need for communities to follow mitigation strategies to keep schools open.
"It’s definitely not as easy as it was when we were in school. I’m a social person so I like to be around people I like to interact with people while I’m learning," said South Mountain Sophomore Kire Johnson. "So it’s definitely a challenge being on the computer at home."
This virtual school year has brought new challenges.
"You have kids who are autistic or have ADHD where they can’t learn as deeply or sit down in front of a computer the whole class. They need to be interactive," said Johnson.
Superintendents across Arizona are acutely aware of the issues facing their staff and students, and they grapple with the decisions on how to proceed.
"Our goal, of course, is to get everyone back in five days a week instruction - but we have to make really wise decisions," said Mesa Superintendent, Andi Fourlis.
"The more we ignore this virus, the less stability we provide students and families. This is a consequence of not taking the virus seriously." said State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. "We should expect efforts to protect our students and schools to come with continued sacrifice."
"Kids need consistency - and this back-and-forth and uncertainty has been really hard on them," said Becca Clarkson, a Mesa mother and former teacher in the district.
Clarkson's young kids have been back in their elementary school classrooms for the past month.
"And they’re really happy to be back," said Clarkson. "Emotionally it’s been an improvement to be back in school."
Clarkson is now a vocal proponent of in-person learning. She was a leader with the 'AZ Open Our Schools' movement.
"Ultimately it comes down to what is the best option for the kids," she said.
Mark Linder, a former Queen Creek School Board member, believes it is not that simple. He says teachers and the elderly outside the classroom must be considered in every decision.
"We’re trying to keep everybody safe. We don’t want anyone to get exposed," said Linder.
Linder's 16-year-old daughter has been online all year.
"It’s really hard for her being away from her friends, and I want to get her back into the classroom," said Linder. "She does much better in the classroom than she does online."
"I really do hope we get back to school," said Johnson.
As cases rise, Superintendents realize they will soon have to make a decision about next semester, and not every parent will be in agreement.
"I think they might need to get back to mandates," said Linder. "I think it needs to come from the state level because we can’t trust some of the local government to take care of it."
"I don’t think they need to intervene and tell everyone how we need to live our lives. I think each teacher, each parent, each child can make their own decision," said Clarkson.