What could "back to school" look like for Arizona students?

Posted at 2:25 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 22:44:23-04

PHOENIX — A big part of getting our economy back up and running again includes reopening schools. We've been told a plan is in the works to get students and teachers back in the classroom next school year, but what could that actually look like? Our Rebound Arizona team is asking the questions so many of you want answered.

"I think schools, like society, I think everything has to be different as we transition back," said Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas.

Different and, most importantly, safe. That is the message from Thomas and the 20,000 school personnel our state's teacher union represents.

"How do we make certain that we can open our school safely, we can move our students back on our campuses safely, so we can open up the rest of the economy and it has to be in that order," said Thomas.

In recent interviews with State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman and the incoming superintendent of our state's largest school district, Mesa Public Schools, Dr. Andi Fourlis, both acknowledged several options have already been discussed.

Those options include:

- students and staff using personal protective equipment, or PPE

- staggering the start to the school year

- scheduling students in "shifts" to reduce the number of kids on campus

- continuing remote learning in some capacity

- reducing class sizes and social distancing

Implementing social distancing will be particularly tough for overcrowded schools and younger grades.

"If you ever worked in the elementary grades, I don't know what social distancing means to first graders, they're all over each other," Thomas said.

Still, with so much uncertainty, state and local leaders agree changes are coming, and Thomas says an even bigger fight for education funding is coming with it.

"We can’t overstate how important this is, to where we have the equipment that we need and we have the resources that we need to open the schools as safely as possible," said Thomas.

A statewide framework to help guide schools reopening is scheduled for release by the end of May, but districts will have the final say in how they implement that guidance. In the meantime, the AEA has put together a task force and is using the next few weeks to talk with teachers and school staff about their concerns, to make sure those are adequately addressed in whatever plan emerges.