Thousands of Valley students are returning to the classroom on Tuesday while many teachers are feeling stressed and anxious about COVID-19 and its potential spread in the classroom.
On Tuesday, Jan 19, Deer Valley Unified School District will welcome back grades K-8 to in-person learning.
Scottsdale Unified School District will bring back junior high and high school students.
Mesa Public Schools will offer a five-day modified in-person for most of its schools, and a two-day modified plan for four high schools (Dobson, Mesa, Red Mountain, Westwood) who will only be on campus for two days out of the week.
Chandler Unified School District will be welcoming back all students, as it does not have a virtual option for parents.
"Most teachers, probably today, are starting to stress out because they’re worried about the community spread and now the community is going to walk into the buildings," said Harley Killman, President of the Deer Valley Education Association.
Killman and the DVEA's Board of Directors sent a letter containing concerns the association had for teachers returning to the classroom. The DVEA requested smaller class sizes and a sick-time "safety net" for teachers who decided to self-quarantine or isolate after coming in contact with a person who has COVID-19. The district agreed to that term, and teachers have some support if sick.
"If they require to self-isolate, they will pay for it. Or if a teacher is testing or has tested positive," said Killman.
As part of the Federal CARES ACT, educators were given extra time off if infected with COVID-19, since that expired on December 31, teachers and staff in Chandler Unified, as well as Cave Creek Unified School District, will be forced to use their own sick time.
"It’s a reality that we are going to start seeing as soon as tomorrow when teachers return. Being quarantined, teachers getting sick. It’s something that we really need to get the ball rolling on soon," said CUSD Governing Board Member Lindsay Love.
"I think the anxiety returning this time is at an all-time high," said Katie Nash, President of the Chandler Education Association and biology teacher at Chandler High School.
COVID-19 has been especially harsh on the Chandler High School community. Over the summer, longtime swim coach Kerry Croswhite died after being hospitalized with the virus, and in December, two parent volunteers passed away.
"I don’t think this community can take any more loss at this point. We do a really good job at mitigating, but others don't. We are up against data showing that there is spread in schools or it’s being transmitted from school to home," said Nash.
"I’m not feeling very confident going in. We were not able to give options to our community," said Love on the lack of a virtual learning option in the district.
The Arizona Department of Health Services, based on the community spread of COVID-19, recommends schools in every Arizona county teach virtually, however, because Arizona is a "local control" state, individual school governing boards can decide whether or not to remain virtual or move to in-person learning.