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AZ Teachers Concerned about Return to In-class Instruction

While most Arizona schools will reopen with online instruction this fall, there is still much debate over how and when students and teachers can return to the classroom. (vlsoot/Adobe Stock)
While most Arizona schools will reopen with online instruction this fall, there is still much debate over how and when students and teachers can return to the classroom. (vlsoot/Adobe Stock)
August 12, 2020

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Arizona education officials have laid out benchmarks for returning to classrooms this fall, but many teachers have concerns over bringing kids back.

Most Arizona school districts are reopening with online instruction, but groups of parents and some politicians are pushing for an early return to on-campus learning. All this is happening as Congress debates how much assistance - if any - it will provide school districts.

Pamela Huf, who teaches in the Pendergast Elementary School District in Glendale, said she's not entirely certain how reopening school campuses would work.

"I have between 30 and 35 eighth-graders," she said. "You've got big bodies, for children -- all crammed together in a classroom. There's no way I can social distance those children."

According to the American Federation of Teachers, Congress needs to provide school districts with $139 billion nationally to cover the current funding gap, plus an additional $116 billion for safety modifications and personal protective equipment and supplies. Most Arizona districts say they're strapped for cash and can't afford those costs.

For a return to classroom instruction, districts should see a two-week decline in average COVID-19 cases, two weeks with positive test results below 7%, and two weeks of less than 10% hospital visits. Currently, no counties in Arizona meet those guidelines.

Huf said teachers also worry that they'll end up paying for safety supplies.

"They're going to give us a mask -- a cloth mask -- and sanitizing wipes, but we have to find additional sanitizing wipes," she said. "So, that's coming out of our pockets. Teachers don't make a lot of money. So, who's going to cover those things?"

Even with online instruction, said Huf, who serves as president of the Pendergast Federation of School Employees Local #3476 and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers-Arizona, many of her students fall into the "digital divide."

"These are eighth-graders and they are pretty savvy with technology," she said. "But if the apps don't work, how do they get their work done? If they don't have internet, how do they connect to the classroom or the teachers, or their peers?"

State officials say Arizona schools must begin online classes by no later than next Monday. However, many districts say they plan to wait until at least October, and possibly next year, to consider a return to in-class instruction.

A Schools Roadmap is online at azed.gov.

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