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Candidate commentary

Grivois-Shah: Safely educating our children during the coronavirus outbreak

As a parent, I have seen first-hand the impact COVID-19 has had on my daughter. I experienced the challenges and frustrations of trying to support her learning this past spring, and see the effects that the social isolation has had on her. I know how important it is for her to return back to school in person.

As a family physician on the front lines during this pandemic, I also see the devastation that COVID-19 has on so many in Tucson. How can we successfully address our children’s education and social needs in light of the health and safety concerns for our children, our teachers, and the families they come home to?

Safe Spaces and State Leadership

Our state is not leading in this crisis. Instead of supporting our schools and helping districts truly provide the best options for our families, our state is forcing districts to pick the least-worst option.

First, Arizona leadership needs to work with public health experts to establish criteria for districts to use that determines whether in-person learning is an option. While conditions within our communities might change, the statistics that determine safe behavior should be firm and measurable..

Arizona must also fully fund hybrid in-person and online education so districts can create the best opportunities for their communities. This should include special funding for training teachers and staff so they can provide effective education in different models.

We must also suspend state testing for this academic year 2020-21. My daughter enters third grade, and I need her school focused on her progress academically and her emotional and social well-being, not on taking standardized tests.

Leadership from our Schools

As I speak to other parents around Tucson, the lack of information, misinformation, and changing information is staggering. Our school districts need to do better to lead in this time of crisis.

1. Engage and inform parents and guardians

Periodic surveys are not enough to ensure that the community needs are being met. Now, just days out from the start of school with little information about their children’s class schedule, curriculum, and other important details, parents need better communication from their districts on how their child will learn.

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2. Engage teachers and staff

No one knows how my daughter and her peers interact and the realistic expectations for social distancing, learning, and wellbeing better than her teachers. Our districts must include the voice of our front-line educators to ensure we make the best decisions.

3. Proactively address inequities

Our school districts should not wait for the disparities we know exist to manifest. Instead, they must be proactive in ensuring that all families have the resources they need to help their children succeed. By actively identifying families districts have previously struggled to engage, they can work in partnership with families to meet children's needs.

Continued Parental Support

As an active parent, I’ll be the first to admit that the situation isn’t ideal. “Pandemic school,” as some call it, is no excuse for sub-par education and having my children’s needs unmet. However, while the grass may look greener from the flashy ads on our Facebook feed and the promises that some private and charter schools are making, now is not the time to abandon our neighborhood schools.

Our public schools are designed for parent and community input: through calls to the audience at Governing Board meetings, contacting leaders in the district directly, and through your vote this November. Make your voice heard these days, weeks, and months ahead.

Together, working with our state and local school districts, we can succeed in safely educating our children.

Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah is a family physician, TUSD parent, and a candidate for the TUSD Governing Board

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Ravi Grivois-Shah