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Guest opinion

Kopec: Delay in-person K-12 schooling because of COVID-19 outbreak

I believe the best place for kids is in school. I especially believe the best place for kids is in Amphitheater Public Schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has put incredible strain on our society and here, in Southern Arizona, the situation is no different.

The people who make up our district are dedicated and compassionate people. Having seen them in action personally, I understand why the parents and community of our district have placed their confidence in them.

In classroom instruction and associated activities related to attending school are paramount for the development of children into adults. The younger the student, the more impactful a disruption to learning.

In addition to serving on the Amphi Governing Board, I serve on the boards of two different nonprofits that provide services to children. Each of these rely heavily on schools. Literacy Connects offers the Reading Seed program to elementary school students who are struggling with reading. The Children's Advocacy Center helps children who have been victims of abuse and neglect.

We are faced today with a reality of the uncontained and uncontrolled spread of a virus of known lethality. The information we have today in Southern Arizona is that, due to a variety of factors, mortuary capacity is stressed. State and federal authorities have made inquiries about retrofitting the Tucson Convention Center into an alternate care site, or more colloquially known as a field hospital, to meet rising medical needs.

These circumstances give me pause about reopening our schools for in classroom instruction. I expect the current information from the state of Arizona on scheduled reopening will change. Even with that in mind, I believe the beginning of in classroom instruction should be delayed until the start of the second academic quarter.

I do not come to this conclusion lightly. In truth, it is a struggle.

The protracted delay of in classroom instruction, and the separation of mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect and potential victims, postpones access to help for those who need it most.

The absence of our youngest students, kindergarteners, from interactions with their teachers and peers is detrimental to their development. Students' distance from resources to help with their social emotional development is injurious. Social isolation of students is wrought with challenges. Special education services is critical for many families. Lost instruction time at grade level cannot be regained.

In our district, we are also presented with unique issues related to equity. Access to both the internet and a home to complete school work in is not universal. Delaying in person instruction has the potential of swelling the divide of educational outcomes between socio-economic groups.

I know the teachers and staff will work their hardest to overcome these challenges. I know because they care deeply about their students.

My hope is that years from now the students who are effected by the decisions we make for them can look back and say they made the right decisions. My greater hope is that they can look back and say we made the decisions we made for the right reasons. That we did not barrel forward with a cavalier attitude toward their health and the health of their teachers. That the future they are in mattered to us.

I want our students and staff to be healthy, and in the balancing act of now, delaying in classroom instruction until the second quarter is the best course to achieve it.

I can pledge that with our time, talent and treasure, Amphi is going to do the best it possibly can in this situation.

It can be said that the pandemic did not create these problems, it merely gave them greater exposure. Schools have become the panacea for our kids. Access to food, financial aid, career information and more are provided or, at least, are expected to be provided in addition to curriculum instruction. Both in the context of the current health crisis and beyond, let us resolve ourselves to provide students with the resources they need.

Matt Kopec is a member of the Governing Board of Amphitheater Public Schools.

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Pima County School Superintendent