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Guest opinion

Tucson teachers: 'Devastating consequences' in reopening schools amid CV-19 outbreak

Physically reopening school sites on August 17 will have devastating consequences. It is essential that Arizona waive the requirement for students to be physically present in order to broaden options that ensure the safety of our community.

Data show us that peak shedding for COVID-19 can begin days before an infected person feels ill, and that some carriers – especially children – show no symptoms. We also know that indoor group gatherings are the highest risk activity, and we know that Arizona is currently experiencing exponential growth of COVID-19 cases.

If we require physical attendance when we open schools this fall, then we are choosing to put members of the community who have no choice in the matter at risk.

We agree that students should be in school. However, the question is about what is meant by "in school."

After the physical shut down of school campuses this spring, students continued their work "in school." Many local education agencies and their staff shifted at a moment's notice to ensure students would be serviced and supported academically and socioemotionally.

The difference, however, was how the service and support were provided – through remote delivery versus brick and mortar classrooms. Students never stopped being "in school" when it came to receiving their education.

Without doubt, quality of this remote learning differed site-by-site. This was due to the fact that it was an emergency response that required an immediate shift in instructional delivery. This shift was made without teachers having the opportunity to plan or learn about effective remote learning strategies.

During the coming school year, districts have the opportunity to build in time and training that will allow for high-quality and rigorous remote learning.

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During the TUSD Governing Board meeting on June 23, Dr. Gabriel Trujillo shared that it will take an executive order from the governor or a legislative action in order to change the current definitions of enrollment and instructional minutes. Such an order would increase the feasibility of offering either online instruction for all or a hybrid model.

Current enrollment mandates do not provide for this flexibility, and are not just financially punitive, but potentially devastating. In the case of TUSD, Dr. Trujillo shared that there would be a $215/pupil (5%) loss for any students who do not physically attend school. This adds up to a loss of almost $10 million dollars in just one district.

Schools have been charged with the task of developing and implementing their plans to reopen in less than two months - even with the August 17 extension.

The Arizona Department of Education just released the "Roadmap for Reopening Schools" on June 1. According to the publication, these guidelines were recommended with "input from public health experts and education leaders across our state." However, the ADE also states these guidelines "provide a series of recommendations on how schools can approach the 2020-2021 school year and offers adaptable considerations to meet each community's unique needs."

These guidelines mirror CDC recommendations. These guidelines do nothing besides providing school leaders with a false assurance that they have the ability to serve and support students at a physical site that is not only the least restrictive but also healthy and safe.

We must do the responsible thing and temporarily re-define the requirement for students to be physically present in order for districts to receive full per-pupil funding.

It is not a perfect solution, but it will help keep our community significantly safer during this global pandemic.

Adelle McNiece, PhD, is a science teacher and program coordinator at TUSD’s Booth-Fickett K-8 Math/Science Magnet School. Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S., is an educator and professional development provider with Maverik Education LLC.

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