Feds advise school to resume in Fall, locals say ‘not so fast’

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Despite federal insistence, local schools may not reopen on currently advised dates due to the resurgence of COVID-19 in Arizona.

By Jon Johnson


PHOENIX – Late July and early August are usually filled with back-to-school shopping, sports practices, and the anticipation of parents of sending their children back to their education centers. This year, however, that may be delayed due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and its current infection rate in Arizona.

While the federal government leaders call for schools to reopen as usual, locally it is a different story in Arizona, where Governor Doug Ducey has already pushed back possible openings to Aug. 17.

On Wednesday, President Donald J. Trump insisted that schools open despite the increase in COVID-19 positive tests and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos echoed that statement. DeVos said she could even cut federal funding to schools that didn’t reopen and blamed “fear mongering” for school closures.

However, Arizona State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman released her own statement regarding the safe reopening of schools.

“Educators, school staff, and families share the goal of reopening our schools and returning students to the classroom to ensure their physical, academic, social, and emotional needs are met,” Hoffman wrote. “Like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, teachers know the best place for our students to learn is in the classroom. However, today’s discussion at the White House Summit on Safely Reopening America’s Schools did not reflect the magnitude or severity of Arizona’s growing public health crisis.

For Arizona to reopen school facilities for in-person learning, we dust first get COVID-19 under control. In the last two weeks, our confirmed cases doubled from 50,000 to 100,000. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are up, and critical care services such as ventilators are at a record high use. The positivity rate in testing is between 25 percent to 30 percent – quadruple the 5 percent that experts recommend for making informed decisions about reopening. Today, Arizona has the highest infection rate per capita than any other state in our country – including New York during its April peak.

And while young students may be at a lower risk for infection, the educators who make learning possible – including instructional aides, librarians, bus drivers, nutrition workers, and more – are at risk, as are students with medical conditions. Those valued members of our schools need more assurances that schools and communities have the resources they need to stop the virus from spreading widely through their communities. Given Arizona’s rising case numbers and the fact that Arizona remains open, I cannot provide those assurances for the adults and students who are medically vulnerable in our school communities at this time.

I welcome more aggressive action from Governor Ducey and our public health officials to help mitigate the virus’ spread. The reality of COVID-19 in Arizona means that reopening schools will be a community effort in which we all have a role to play. Stay home, maintain physical distancing, wash your hands, and wear a mask when you are in public. It is only with statewide action and personal responsibility that we will find a pathway forward for our students and educators to return to the classroom.”

As of Thursday, the Arizona Department of Health Services is reporting 112,671 total cases of COVID-19 in Arizona, with 2,038 deaths. The number of total cases include those who have recovered.

Locally, Graham County has reported 182 cases, with 138 active cases, 41 recovered cases, and three deaths. Greenlee County has reported 27 cases, with 14 active cases, 12 recovered cases, and one death.