The governor's update in May announcing schools would resume at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, set school reopening plans in motion. It also gave districts the daunting task of safely welcoming students and staff back to campus as early as July.
On May 28 the state reported 845 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 deaths. Nearly one month later, on June 23, a record 3,591 cases were reported along with 42 deaths.
"We design plans and then we get new information the next day or maybe within the next hour and so it's back to the drawing board and we have to reshape what those plans look like," said Dr. Andi Fourlis, incoming superintendent of Mesa Public Schools.
Dr. Fourlis is one of many administrators working to put the best plans and safety protocols in place for their communities. Most districts are also including contingency plans in case of another emergency closure. Even so, many parents and teachers are increasingly nervous about the potential consequences of reopening too soon.
"My health, my students' health, my family's health and you look and say, none of these people are in a bubble," said Brent Kleinman, who teaches at Glendale Community College.
"Of course we all want to come back, I miss my kids," said Kindergarten teacher Kelley Fisher, "but we all also want to do what's best for all of us, what's the safest option for everyone, and so there are a lot of concerns about safety out there right now."
Still with parents needing to get back to work and schools providing vital services beyond academics, like nutrition and medical care, balancing the need to reopen with our ongoing public health crisis continues to be a struggle.
"People who haven't quite thought about it before are really starting to understand the critical role that public schools play in the center of our communities," Chris Kotterman with the AZ School Boards Association said during an ABC15 Education Town Hall. "The ability to use public schools to perform a variety of community functions, from hosting sporting events to all kinds of other things, all things we aren't doing right now, has been readily apparent."
“Our office is working closely with Superintendent Hoffman, education leaders, parents, teachers and more on a plan to ensure schools have the flexibility and resources to reopen safely at the start of the school year. Our priority has, and will continue to be, the health and safety of all students, teachers and staff. More details will be announced soon. “