Arizona’s School Boards Need Support from Arizona’s Leaders
Arizona’s school boards have stood between the virus and Arizona’s students for nine months. They have managed problems unforeseen less than 12 months ago the best they are able. They have served their students and their voters with integrity while managing through COVID-related challenges in their own lives, sometimes at risk to their own safety. They have done so because they believe in the mission of public education. But they should not have to do it alone. It is an untenable position to have to make decisions on behalf of students and school staff downstream from earlier decisions that not only do not hamper extensive community spread of COVID-19, but which may increase the likelihood of that spread.
Yesterday’s update of the Arizona Department of Health Services School Dashboard revealed that as of November 29, DHS recommends over half of Arizona’s counties transition to virtual learning, while the remaining counties were on the verge of that recommendation. Given our current trajectory, this news is likely to get worse in the coming weeks.
Still, some Arizona school districts have made the choice to continue in-person instruction. They do this because their communities demand it, to the point of threats, despite rising illness in the community at large. Some do it because the state, having exhausted the $370 million set aside to help keep schools operating, continues to apply a reduction in funding for students who are in virtual learning. Some schools fear they simply can’t afford to go all virtual again if they hope to be financially able to provide anything resembling a traditional school experience on the other side of the pandemic.
Arizona’s schools are about to enter winter break and will be closed for two weeks.
The governor and the Legislature, and all Arizonans, have it within their power to use this time to aggressively address these problems. If Arizonans want their schools open in the Spring, both voluntary and required mitigation measures must be followed. That means exercising personal responsibility by wearing a mask in public and refraining from gathering with those outside your household, especially large parties and extended family gatherings.
The governor can and should empower the Department of Health Services and local public health officials to implement additional mitigation strategies as necessary to contain the spread of the virus.
The Legislature, the governor, and education leaders, including school boards, can and should use this time to begin figuring out how, along with the Arizona Department of Education, we can use the state’s available resources to provide badly needed budgetary stability to Arizona’s schools as soon as possible.
Education leaders and advocates have spent the last five years attempting to repair the damage done to Arizona’s education system by the Great Recession. The progress has been significant. If we do not act together, and soon, many of those gains will be irretrievably lost.
Now is the time when Arizona’s state-level policy leaders must get serious about stopping the spread. That is the key to getting students back where we all want them to be: safe, and in school.