QUEEN CREEK, AZ — It's not the way he wanted to end his teaching career. On Wednesday, Mark DeGrow, a long time high school chemistry teacher, handed in his resignation letter.
"The district's In-Person Return to School details will not guarantee my safety," it read in part. "It is impossible to socially distance 33 students in my classroom."
He's not the first to quit, and says he likely won't be the last. "I hate not being able to do it this year, but it's not safe," added DeGrow. "It's sad for the students as well, they're going to miss out on some quality teachers with experience that are leaving."
One of those being Matthew Chicci. "I have people at home that can't get this, or I'll be short a member of my family," said Chicci. "Teachers have choices too, and this is my choice. I'm choosing my family."
The decision to return to in-person learning passed by the Queen Creek Unified School Board Tuesday night in a 4-1 vote.
DeGrow called it disappointing, while Chicci says he saw the writing on the wall. "I knew the board was going to vote this way," he said. "I know this board, I know this community. They weren't going to pick any other option, they weren't going to listen. So, I made my decision a week and a half ago."
"It's with a heavy heart and tremendous sadness that I respectfully tender my resignation as a faculty member at Queen Creek High School," wrote Chicci. "I am a man of science and the science behind the District's plan is (at best) unsound and at worst may very well lead to disastrous consequences."
Ahead of Tuesday's vote, parents and students gathered outside district offices in support of re-opening, while a group of educators asked for a delay, or a hybrid model to be considered.
"We had no input, we were not sought," said Chicci. "It would have been really nice to have had someone say 'hey, let's work together on this,' but instead it was very top down."
Queen Creek Unified School District officials released their mitigation plan to head back to the classroom Tuesday, explaining efforts administrators will make to keep students and faculty safe.
The plan includes being socially distant when possible, conducting consistent sanitation measures and instructions on how the school day will be timed to keep different groups of students separated.
It also says students are required to wear masks, but a separate document shows the district will allow exemptions for individuals who have trouble breathing, persons who are interacting with someone who has hearing loss or is deaf, and any student exercising, in a playground setting, or anywhere considered a "safe" environment.
"Well, if kids aren't going to wear masks, how am I going to be safe?" said Chicci.
"They don't need a doctors' note not to wear a mask," added DeGrow. "[Parents] can just say 'my student cannot wear a mask.'"
DeGrow says his resignation means early retirement, while Chicci is looking for a new job.
Both say that in-person learning this year will still have its challenges.
"I think some of the most effective teaching comes when you can go one on one with a student," said DeGrow. "That's just not going to happen. It's not going to be school like it was before."