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AZ School Districts Face Major Challenges in Returning to Class

Educators say Arizona schools must be modified to provide social distancing and other COVID-19 safeguards before students can safely return to campus in the fall. (Halfpoint/Adobe Stock)
Educators say Arizona schools must be modified to provide social distancing and other COVID-19 safeguards before students can safely return to campus in the fall. (Halfpoint/Adobe Stock)
June 19, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona educators say because COVID-19 brought an end to in-class instruction this spring, they fear the state's most vulnerable students are falling behind their classmates.

While no one seems to know what a return to school might look like, educators believe students from lower-income households and communities of color missed out when classes moved online.

Ralph Quintana, president of American Federation of Teachers, Arizona chapter, says students without home computers or reliable broadband are at a distinct disadvantage.

"Because of that, you're looking at 25% to 50% of every single grade level and every single kid in Arizona right now that didn't get the type of education that they needed, for multiple reasons," he points out.

Quintana says other concerns include modifications to buildings and the curriculum that would be needed to keep students and faculty safe.

This may include a combination of splitting students into morning and afternoon classes, four-day weeks, or a hybrid system that divides classes between school and home.

Quintana points out that those changes will cost a lot of money, and that per-pupil spending in Arizona public schools consistently ranks among the lowest in the nation.

He's convinced that the federal government needs to step in.

"Without something like the HEROES Act that increases funding, I don't know how a lot of schools are going to do it," he states. "The funding has got to come from somewhere.

"So, if the state isn't going to give us that money, then the best way to do it would be some type of legislation out of Congress."

The federal HEROES Act provides up to $60 billion in aid to local school districts. It was approved by the House, but is still awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Quintana says without that funding, he isn't optimistic that Arizona districts can afford the changes.

"Even for the minimal things, we're just not going to have the funds here in Arizona to meet the safety needs of our students or teachers as we go back in the school," he stresses.

Quintana says districts must also deal with the state's chronic teacher shortage, which could get worse.

A recent survey shows that, while most teachers plan to return, many at or near retirement age could opt out because they're considered high-risk for COVID-19.

Disclosure: American Federation of Teachers contributes to our fund for reporting on Education, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ