Kurland: Working together for our students' safety amid COVID-19

By Eric Kurland
Posted 9/10/20

The SUSD governing board has decided on a phased approach for reintroducing in-person learning for the majority of our students after weeks of gathering feedback from parents, teachers, and …

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Kurland: Working together for our students' safety amid COVID-19


The SUSD governing board has decided on a phased approach for reintroducing in-person learning for the majority of our students after weeks of gathering feedback from parents, teachers, and administrators.

Some people are vehemently opposed to opening schools at this time. Others are just as strident in their assertion that students’ needs cannot be met through distance learning.

Health experts are concerned that reopening of schools will negatively impact our communities. The economy hangs in the balance as we fully recognize the importance that public schools have in keeping our labor force working.

Where we all agree is that this is untenable. Where we all agree is that our priority should be our children. Parents, teachers and administrators all want our students to be in the classroom.

My wife is a teacher. It is hard for me to remove myself from the fear I face knowing that she could be called upon to put herself and potentially our family in danger.

Last year Kari caught a bug at school. What started out as a mild cold grew into something far worse. An anxious trip to urgent care and breathing treatments brought relief but, make no mistake, I am worried. My wife works as a gifted teacher and isn’t exposed to just one classroom of kids. She can be exposed to up to 100 students a day.

Daily, all around us, people have returned to work facing similar concerns. I would argue that our public school teachers and staff face a unique challenge in that many workers are not having to assume these risks in buildings with inadequate ventilation and where social distancing isn’t possible.

I’ve seen the argument brought forth repeatedly that others have returned to work despite the risk. Hospitals and doctors offices can mandate 100% adherence to wearing masks, testing is accessible, PPE is provided, and, even still, many appointments are now done virtually.

At the grocery store, cashiers have plexiglass, marked floor lines keeping customers at a distance. How does an elementary school teacher keep her distance? How do the children maintain recommended space from each other? They don’t; that is the reality.

When we ask teachers to return to their classrooms, know that we are asking them to return to an environment that is unique to their profession. That cannot be overstated. And yet despite having very legitimate worries, my wife and I agree that we must do all we can to return children to the classroom.

For in person schooling to be successful, we must come together as a community. We need to prioritize our youngest and most in need students first.

We must monitor and adjust as needed and work with all employees to best create safer work spaces.

A new Code of Conduct should be adopted, for example, unless a student has a medical reason, mask wearing should be enforced. As a community, we must not engage in risky behavior. Families of students should limit social engagements and wear masks outside of the home.

All should agree to keep children home if someone in the house has been exposed or if someone is ill. Getting our kids back in school should be the priority of everyone — working together to lessen the rate of infection.

Give grace and have patience with our local school authorities as they grapple with how best to meet this novel challenge. They are not to blame for our current situation.

If we had a sound and functioning leadership at the state and federal levels, our schools would be in session right now. In Arizona, we haven’t made children a priority for over 25 years and our legislature, once again, abdicated their responsibilities this past March as they cut and ran when tough decisions were needed.

Our governor acted too late addressing this crisis and our students are now paying that price. As our infection rates improve, can we rely upon our current elected officials to stay the course so that metrics continue to allow for in person schooling?

I urge all of you to learn about the opening plans that each learning community decides. Be kind, be courteous, be civil. Understand that your personal wishes and what is best for you may not be what is best for another family. Listen, work together, and compromise.

Editor’s Note: Eric Kurland is seeking election to Arizona’s House of Representatives for Legislative District 23.