QUEEN CREEK, AZ — School's back in session -- online at least.
Across the Valley, most teachers and students are busy testing the waters of their virtual classrooms, but Queen Creek educators are still reporting to campus.
"It’s been mandated that all teachers have to be on campus to do their online teaching with their students," said Mark Linder, a parent and former Queen Creek School Board member. "They are trying to keep business as usual from everything that I’ve seen."
For months, parents and educators have brought up several concerns with the district's actions on several issues regarding the district's stance on safety precautions.
Queen Creek Unified leaders fought against a district-wide mandate on masks earlier this year, and even asked parents to sign a waiver that would absolve district officials of responsibility if the virus were to spread among students in July.
On Tuesday, Queen Creek Unified spokesperson Stephanie Ingersoll confirmed reports of positive cases among district employees. Ingersoll said she couldn't disclose any further details, but several sources tell ABC15 at least one of those employees is a Physical Education teacher at a Queen Creek Elementary School.
"That person was at four different schools over the past week in various meetings," added Linder. "There hasn’t been any communication from the district office up to this point telling any of those other people in those meetings that, 'hey, you may have been exposed.'"
The announcement, only adding to the worry among educators who've already watched several Arizona teachers contract -- at least one, die -- of COVID-19.
"They don’t want to stop doing the job they love, but for a lot of these people, if they catch this, that’s what happens anyways," said Jake Frantz, President of the Queen Creek Education Association. “We all want to be back, but if we do this wrong, we’re in trouble. Even more so than we are now.”
Frantz says, already, a number of his colleagues have discussed leaving their jobs as a result.
"The amount of people that are already talking about it is enough to shut down schools," he said. "A lot of people would rather resign than stand up and speak up for their own safety.”
Frantz and Linder say district leaders should be doing more to protect educators from the virus. Instead, they say district officials are still holding in-person meetings, and moving forward with a plan to start in-person learning on Aug. 17.
"We don’t even have students back yet and we already have a positive test," said Linder. "So what’s the plan now? You just keep pushing forward with your [August] 17 start date and pretend like it didn’t happen? That’s really what it’s feeling like right now.”
The state plans to release metrics developed by the Arizona Department of Health Services Friday, to help districts decide if and when to re-open schools for in-person learning.