ASBA’s Response to Executive Order Requiring Schools To Offer In-Person Learning
The latest Executive Order from Governor Ducey regarding school reopening follows a familiar yet predictable pattern of leading from behind.
At the outset of the pandemic a year ago, several school districts declared that they would not reopen immediately after their 2020 spring break. As those closures cascaded across Arizona, the state declared schools should close.
As education stakeholders pressed for some sort of data to avoid having to make arbitrary decisions on reopening, the state finally decided to develop metrics on community spread.
As school leaders began asking (and offering to assist in) developing a plan to ensure schools could budget effectively for distance learning, the governor developed, then underfunded, without consultations, a plan to fund distance learning.
Throughout the pandemic, ASBA has called for greater empowerment and resourcing of the Arizona Department of Health Services and county health departments to consult with districts and conduct testing and contact tracing operations to safely reopen schools. Those calls were ignored, and county health departments remain overwhelmed.
Now, as many districts have already set a target of mid-March to evaluate their reopening plans, another executive order is issued, with no advance warning, upending all that planning and undermining weeks of communication efforts by districts with parents and staff about what they can expect in the weeks ahead. After setting up a system where the default has been for governing boards to make decisions with no state support, Governor Ducey has stepped in at the 11th hour to make certain all these decisions are made on his terms.
We now once again have more questions than answers. What is the process for determining if a school should close due to an increase in cases? Schools are now prohibited from closing unless the county health department approves – but testing and contact tracing on which to make that decision barely exist. What about schools located on reservations where tribal governments have issued stay-at-home orders? We’ll get back to you. What if a majority of the parents in your district are still afraid to send their children to school? Open anyway.
School district governing boards and superintendents have spent a year in the field dealing with these issues, and their experience and expertise in school operations is continually dismissed and disregarded as unimportant. We are forced to conclude that the governor simply doesn’t care whether things get done right or done well, but rather on his terms and timeframe and if he gets credits for doing them.
Yet again, we have squandered an opportunity to cooperate and reach an enduring solution. Instead, we will continue the governor’s way of muddling through until the next crisis.
There remain opportunities for the governor to lead – and not from behind this time. As the state receives historic additional funding from the federal government, he could prioritize schools to ensure investments and remediation are made to school capital facilities to allow for a safer learning environment. He could invest in school counselors – Arizona has the highest counselor-to-student ratio in the country – who will have their hands full with returning students full of anxiety and unsure of the future. Most importantly, he could re-dedicate to working collaboratively with school districts – ALL of them, not just some – to be a partner in leading for public education in a post-pandemic world. The ball is in his court.