When Governor Doug Ducey announced schools would reopen, there was for a brief moment, a belief Arizona was beating COVID-19. Three weeks later, optimism is turning to fear as teachers worry the state is moving too fast and risking lives in the process.
The Chandler Unified School District is traditionally one of the first to begin the school year in late July. Not this year -- the district is delaying the start two weeks, until August 5th.
"It doesn't sound like we have a good handle on what the virus is doing amongst our community," said Katie Nash. Nash is a teacher and is also the Arizona Education Association representative for the district.
When schools closed in March, there were 12 positive COVID-19 cases in Arizona. Districts are preparing to reopen at a time when the number of new COVID-19 cases exceeds 3,000 a day. Forty-seven thousand students attend Chandler Unified Schools and the District employs approximately 750 teachers. Many of the COVID cases come from zip codes inside the district's boundaries. Nash says, "it seems to be an equal amount who want their kids back in the classroom and then parents who are truly fearful for their child's life or their families' lives as the child returns back home from school every day." Nash says a recent poll of teachers showed 54 percent feared going back on campus.
"We can only open our schools if they are safe." On Thursday night Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas went on Facebook and encouraged his 22,000 members to express their concerns to principals and district leaders about returning to school. "We have to understand the risks we are facing better than we do right now," Thomas said.
Earlier this month the Arizona Department of Education released a 'Roadmap to Reopening Schools.' Returning to class, distance-learning or a combination of the two are part of the plan. So is social distancing protocols and wearing masks. Tucson State Representative Randy Friese (D-District 9), a physician, likes the plan. But he warns, "be ready to either drastically change the plan or delay that plan or abort that plan if safety comes into question."
At his weekly briefing Thursday, Governor Ducey warned COVID-19 will continue to hit Arizona hard for weeks to come. "The numbers continue to go up in the wrong direction," he said. Teachers are watching those numbers closely as they dread the approach of the coming school year. "They are legitimately scared," Katie Nash says. "It's really like a deep-rooted fear for their life. It's not like a little worry, oh, I'm going to get a cough. It's like I'm worried I'm going to die."