Demands for open classrooms hit Kyrene board The Chandler Arizonan

Demands for open classrooms hit Kyrene board

January 24th, 2021 Chandler Arizona Staff
Demands for open classrooms hit Kyrene board
City News

Arizonan Executive Editor

Kyrene’s newly constituted Governing Board this month got a taste of what their counterparts in Tempe Union High School District have been hearing for months – demands by some parents to open classrooms.

And parents sharing that sentiment in both districts got an ally in their fight – Gov. Doug Ducey.

“Parents need to put pressure on the districts and if the districts aren’t going to open, parents need to vote with their feet,” Ducey said in an interview Jan. 15 on KTAR Radio’s Mike Broomhead show. “There’s thousands of kids inside classrooms today all over Arizona. Parents who need their kids to learn virtually, that option remains available, but the parents who want their kids inside a classroom, like me, need to find a school where they can get inside a classroom.”

The interview climaxed a week that began with the governor using his annual State of the State address partly to warn districts that he would not fund “empty seats” and that ended with his 2021 -22 budget proposal calling for funding summer school to help kids, primarily in low-income communities, close the learning gap that educators believe has developed from prolonged school closures. He also proposed new funding strategies to promote charter schools. 

His budget also appeared to offer no hope to districts that the state will equalize the per-pupil reimbursement rate for online students, which is currently 5 percent lower than the rate for students in classrooms.

Ducey’s remarks and budget proposal came during a week when all Tempe Union and Kyrene schools remained in virtual learning for all students and indicated classrooms would be closed likely for the rest of January, since officials want the county metrics for virus spread in a moderate range.

Currently, both districts are far from that.

According to data released on Thursday, Jan. 14, virus spread in both Kyrene and Tempe Union surged in the last week of December – the latest numbers available – to 688 cases per 100,000 in Tempe Union and 713 in Kyrene. That was a jump of more than 200 from the previous week. Percentage of new test results that were positive leaped to 20 percent from around 13 percent in both districts while percentage of hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms were above the threshold for significant spread.

Both districts have maintained virtual learning since Thanksgiving.

Kyrene offered open classrooms for a little more than two months to children in Pre-K through fifth grades and for about six weeks to middle schoolers.

Tempe Union has not offered five-day in-classroom instruction since the governor closed schools in mid-March. In mid-October, it began a hybrid learning mode that split student bodies alphabetically into two groups of students who wanted in-class learning that then rotate between classroom instruction two days a week and at-home learning the other three days.

In a letter to parents Jan 14, Kyrene said it is “prepared to make a rapid transition once the community health metrics show that it is safe to do so, and staffing levels are sufficient to welcome in-person learners back to campus. If the county reports overall moderate spread in the Kyrene boundaries for two weeks in a row, schools will receive that data on a Thursday and will be ready to welcome in-person learners to school the following Tuesday.”

Tempe Union’s website reminded parents the district remains in a fully virtual leaning mode and gave no indication when that would change, stating, “These are difficult decisions to make but we continue to focus on the safety and well-being of our students, their families, and our teachers and staff.

Ducey in both his State of the State address and his radio interview reiterated his previous contention that that approach is wrong.

”We need to get our kids back in school,” he said on the radio. “Every public health experts says schools are the safest place for our children to be.”

Parents whose letters to both Kyrene and Tempe Union were read at the districts’ respective board meetings last week were split on that contention.

Parents who demanded that Kyrene reopen classrooms echoed Ducey’s assertion, with one writing:

“I have seen a significant decline in my son’s retention of knowledge and social emotional behavior. My son struggled through kindergarten and first grade. We were hoping that this was the year he would take off and when he went to in-person in second grade, everything finally clicked and we were so proud of him and so happy …We want nothing more than for him to go back in-person, to be with his teacher who he loves and all of his buddies. He asks us all the time, ‘When can I go back to school?’”

Another parent expressed concern for the impact of closed classrooms on children’s emotional state as well as their academic proficiency, stating:

“Has anyone monitored an online class to see the difference of attention span and distractions that occur in the online environment? I am also concerned with the reduced time of instruction the online environment provides our children.”

Some parents asserted that the district cared more about teachers than kids and asked if Kyrene would require teachers to get COVID-19 vaccines.

The trust that insures Kyrene and Tempe Union has said nothing about state law preventing districts from requiring teachers be vaccinated, with exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

But Kyrene told AFN two weeks ago there is no plan at this time to require vaccinations while Tempe Union has been silent on the issue.

Meanwhile, other parents in both districts whose letters were read last week praised decisions to maintain virtual learning until virus spread levels ebbed.

“We agree with (state schools Superintendent Kathy) Hoffman’s position that decisions around instruction should happen in a data-driven manner,” one wrote. “We know the online environment can be challenging and we would love to safely return our children to the classroom.”

One letter came from a Tempe High School employee whose husband is a registered nurse and works with many COVID-19 patients. She said that as part of her district job, she has talked with or visited more than 900 families and after hearing their stories of how COVID-19 taken the lives of loved ones or otherwise impacted them adversely, she felt like she was living in a different world.

“I understand why the conversation is so polarized,” she wrote. “If your personal experiences and the experiences of those of you closest to you are not the same as the others, it is incredibly difficult to understand the need to completely retool your life. I implore you to continue the protections you’ve put in place.”


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