Valley schools prepare to begin online learning in the early weeks of August — if they haven’t already started the new school year — as parents offer insights into the various degrees of staying home or returning to the classroom.
Many public school districts around the Phoenix metropolitan area have announced plans to begin school on time with online learning, with an option to return to campus sometime in coming months.
Local mother Bell Salazar wants her kids to return to school when it’s safe, which for her, would include keeping the number of COVID-19 cases down for 14 days.
“I understand the emotional toll it plays on them and being stuck at home, but on the healthcare side, because I’m a nurse assistant, I know what the risks are and we as parents have been trying very hard to keep them home and safe,” Ms. Salazar said.
“The options the Chandler school district has given and even charter school have been fair. I’ve been able to pick to send my kids back because my kids are hands on — they need to touch it, see it ask questions at that time before they forget. Doing things online has been a total mess and the schools have no idea what they are doing. They have had since March when the schools closed till now and even then now we have no clue what’s going on.”
Ms. Salazar said as much as she hates it, she feels schools should stay closed until after the October break.
The mom and bonus mom to five children with ages ranging from elementary to high school, she says she believes children can learn the precautions of COVID-19.
Scottsdale attorney, Jordan Rose, who is a mother of two school-aged children, also pointed to teaching children to be responsible with COVID-19.
“Given the research that younger kids are far less likely to develop or spread the virus than adults, plus the fact that the plan for the school my kids attend takes a very cautious approach, I feel quite comfortable sending the kids back to school,” Ms. Rose said.
“I think the kids need interaction, more mental stimulation than we are giving them online, and they understand the new importance of social distancing, mask wearing, not touching their faces, etc. We can’t eliminate the risk of the virus but if we all do our part to follow the best possible medically based practices we can sure minimize that risk to allow us to have some semblance of normalcy and send the kids back to school!”
Scottsdale Schools parent and community advocate Mike Norton says more data is needed to appropriately address re-opening schools.
“I’ve been working with the leaders of many of Scottsdale’s schools talking about challenges to reopening. Without question the greatest challenge is the lack of critical data,” he said.
Mr. Norton says the schools have requested specific age data from the county and state, and were told they could have not have access to past or future data.
“That ignores the scientific studies showing that 0- to 10-year-old children have relatively safe profiles and history while teens and older have high rates of infection and very high rates of transmission to others,” Mr. Norton said.
“Every study we’ve read, including all the latest reports released by the CDC after peer review recommend strict monitoring, consistent testing, immediate tracking and tracing after a new infection is identified, and public sharing of the information after redacting for privacy and HIPPA. Governor Ducey has a reputation as being a data-driven decision maker. Hopefully he will intervene.”
Mother Megan Manning, who is a former teacher, is supportive of schools reopening later this fall. Her district, Peoria Unified, has plans to re-open their campus after Labor day, but will continue to offer online classes for parents who prefer that option.
“I like that there are two options, I also like the people that are opting for online learning after schools reopen,” Ms. Manning said. “As a former teacher, I could only imagine the nightmare of having a new kids popping in and out of your classroom throughout a semester, it would make continuity very difficult as well as creating and maintaining a classroom environment that is safe and secure.”
The Mannings’ support for returning to the classroom when available goes beyond educational learning needs.
“I understand the pandemic is very real and there’s a lot of things that we need to work toward; however, I do believe the school functions much more than an educational setting,” Ms. Manning said.
“As a parent of a child with special needs I also realize the importance of in-person therapy. For my son to have occupational therapy, that works on pencil grip, hand-writing strokes and dealing with sensory issues, teletherapy is very limited on what they can give him and provide him access to.”
Further, Ms. Manning’s son thrives from relationships with peers and she sees improved behavior when he’s at school.
“...Isolating him has made it very hard and we have noticed big regression with that,” she said. “Being able to be with typical peers and peers with disabilities like him help him work towards goals on creating and maintaining appropriate behavior within the classroom. Coming from the education background, school is much more than just learning. It is a social environment, a safe place, access to hygiene materials, access to free or reduced lunches... It’s much bigger than learning reading writing and math.”
Parent Nadia Mustafa is also planning to send her children back to school --- one next week, and a third-grader after Labor Day. Ms. Mstafa, who sends her children to Cave Creek Unified School District and a private Montessori preschool, says her family has been strictly quarantining since March.
“My husband is a hospital physician treating Covid-19 patients. He has supported our strict quarantine for almost five months. But he thinks the kids should go back to school,” Ms. Mustafa explained.
“I’m the primary caregiver to the kids, and I told my husband that I can handle a few more weeks, or even months, with them at home. But his ‘cost-benefit analysis’ is that they need to go back. He’s scoured the scientific research and he’s looking at American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. They need to learn, they need to socialize.”
Ms. Mustafa says even with research and knowledge, it’s not an easy decision.
“It’s stressful, nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing, second-guessing. And it’s not just about whether our kids might get sick. It’s about the teachers and other adults at the school. The others they could infect as possible asymptomatic carriers,” she said.
“It’s also about just not knowing. Our ‘cost-benefit analysis’ is based on a lot of unknowns. So it’s really not a great analysis. They call this coronavirus ‘novel’ for a reason. It’s new, and we still have a lot to learn. What if we are making a decision right now that will affect our kids seriously for the rest of their lives? How will we forgive ourselves? I don’t know the answers. I only know that we have been conservative about quarantine since COVID struck Arizona, but now we are delicately choosing to open our bubble. And it’s scary.”
Mother Lindsey Molina has a first grader who will be returning to school after Labor Day, but she wishes a hybrid option had been offered.
“I was disappointed because I would have like to been given the option of a hybrid model. Perhaps two days on campus with three days online. This way my son would be able to have the social interactions and development that a first grader requires while also limiting his possible exposure,” she said.
Ms. Molina says she is supportive of schools re-opening, and feels like PUSD listened to the voices of their parents, educators and leadership.
“They are cautiously taking the time to ensure they can re-open in a safe matter for all,” she explained.
“The district has also sent parents guidelines regarding what on campus will look like. All students will have their own supplies and there will be no sharing. The campus will receive deep cleaning every Sunday and Wednesday. I feel like they are doing what they can as new regulations come out in order to provide the safest learning environment to the students.”
Still, the mother of two has concerns. Ms. Molina and her husband are both front line workers, and her husband contracted COVID-19 from his workplace. Thankfully, the family took measures to not spread the virus throughout the household. .
“The measures we took were drastic and I’m not sure what the school district will do regarding an exposure to students and staff,” she said.
“There has been no clear plan set in place. In addition to isolating a possible outbreak we are concerned about the learning environment. Our son will be in first grade. He knows as soon as we leave our home to mask up and the importance of hand washing, not touching your face, limiting touching items at the grocery store, decontaminating once were home etc. I am unsure of how the other first graders will be and the teachers and school staff can only do so much.”