NewsGetting Back to School


Confusion and frustration surrounding school reopening decisions

Posted at 3:49 PM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 17:14:55-04

PHOENIX — Teachers calling out sick, emotional school board meetings, protests, and motor marches. These are the new norms when it comes to education.

"Each day they come to me saying 'mom, have you heard anything? Have you heard if they're going to let us back in school yet?'" said Angie Ward.

Three of her five kids are currently enrolled in Gilbert Public Schools, now entering their third week of remote learning.

"We're so grateful for our teachers for wanting to do the very best they can with the situation as it is, but it's just not ideal, it's been really challenging," Ward said.

Ward was one of many parents, students, and teachers at last week's governing board meeting. More than 30 people voiced their concerns and frustrations during public comment.

Gilbert is just the latest district taking heat from all sides of the reopening debate as governing boards across the state try to balance the needs and wants of their communities, with voluntary reopening guidelines and recommended health benchmarks from the state.

A sick-out brought J.O. Combs in San Tan Valley to a standstill last week. That district's superintendent, Dr. Greg Wyman, penned an op-ed in Friday's Arizona Republic saying, "The lack of a comprehensive or coherent plan at the national and state level for reopening schools" has led to "communities and school districts, the fabric of our communities, being split apart."

Chris Kotterman with the Arizona School Boards Association says districts are craving specifics, especially as they start implementing their mitigation plans.

"We can dial it up and dial it down all day long," said Kotterman. "If it's left to us to decide when that's going to happen, you're going to have varying degrees of these fights that we're seeing now, all year long."

A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Education responded to these concerns in a statement saying, "For every policy released the Arizona Department of Education has provided guidance documents, webinars, and hosted stakeholder discussions in order to meet the needs of schools as they navigate the most challenging school year in memory."

Plans are also in the works for a "subset of the Roadmap to Reopening Schools task force to monitor policy implementation and make recommendations to state leaders on ways to support our schools throughout the academic year."

A spokesperson for Governor Ducey's office tells ABC15 they feel Arizona does have a specific statewide plan to reopen schools, referring to the recommended health benchmarks. When it comes to mandating protocols for businesses, he said schools and businesses are different because the state has the responsibility to provide education as an essential form of government, adding that flexibility is something school leaders asked for since they know their communities best.