"Positive cases in Arizona are trending upward, not downward," read the letter. "We cannot reopen our schools for on-site learning until we experience a downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period. We want to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, not contribute to higher and higher numbers of outbreaks and deaths in our communities."
The governing board members asked for a statewide closure of buildings and classrooms until Oct. 1, or the date on district calendars that marks the end of the first quarter, and requested that after that date, the districts may consider reopening classrooms "when we meet agreed-upon levels of COVID-19 data points that show a reduction of risk and infection in our communities."
The letter also asked that distance learning be funded at the same level as in-person instruction without the requirement to also provide face-to-face classes five days a week and requested assurance every school will receive 100% of its prior-year funding despite COVID-19-specific expenses schools may incur.
The board members also asked that the 180-day instructional requirement be waived for this school year and that the statewide standardized test be suspended for this year.
They also requested that the Arizona Department of Education submit an extension or new waiver for the USDA school lunch program so schools can offer to-go meals to students even when campuses are closed.
"When Governor Ducey announced schools could not open for on-site learning until August 17, 2020, he said this was an ‘aspirational goal,'" read the letter. "We need real goals and plans so we can focus on instructional, facility and transportation planning. Let administrators and teachers plan for and excel at teaching the first quarter remotely. If there is a reduction of risk and infection in our communities, this natural break in our academic calendar will be an ideal time to consider returning to in-person learning."
Chandler board members speak out
Evans told Community Impact Newspaper that he understands students need social interaction, but he said it is not safe to return to schools yet.
"Students have a social interaction need, and they do need that—but not when it's not safe and when we’re risking lives," Evans said.
Evans said the district has more than 45,000 students and about 5,000 staff members including teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, nurses, custodians and more.
"I get people feel that everyone has individual rights, but we are responsible for the health and safety of not just 47,000 students, but the 5,000 staff that they work with and the families they all go home to," Evans said. "I understand the anxiety, but the reality is that we have to look out for everyone as best as we can."
Love, noting she was speaking not for Chandler USD but rather for "the collective of board members around the state who organized and signed the letter," told Community Impact Newspaper that the "safety and humanity of our students and teacher should not be a partisan issue."
The letter was sent to the governor a day after President Donald Trump tweeted schools must reopen in the fall and came the same day as he tweeted a threat to pull funding for schools that did not open.
"The current administration has proven they cannot be trusted to handle decisions around the handling of COVID time and time again," Love said in an email. "The president touted choloroquine despite FDA warnings which has resulted in disastrous consequences, most notably in March for a Mesa couple who became seriously ill resulting in the husband losing his life. There was an increase in accidental poisonings and poison control calls after the president suggested to the nation that ingesting cleaning solutions showed promising results. We are going to allow our president to take risks with our children and educators? The bullying tactics from the president and education secretary are going to cause harm and myself and many board members from across the state are not as bold as the president and education secretary to gamble with human lives. This is simply extortion on the president and the educations secretaries part."
Love said in the email it is important the state waive that 180-day requirement so districts can decide what is best for students.
"We are asking for flexibility with the 180 day school year calendar so we can return to school when it is safe and not because we are calculating how many days of school each student must have," Love said.
Love also discussed the importance of suspending state standardized testing—AzM2—for the upcoming year.
"It seems to me that there are expectations that don't sync with each other," Love said. "On one side, we are concerned about the social emotional aspects from COVID-19 on teachers and students and to make sure that we develop these trauma-informed plans that take this into account. Yet on the other side, we are expecting excellence and the ability to meet standardized testing requirements from our teachers and students despite the social emotional impacts from COVID-19. How is this realistic or achievable? These are the systemic barriers that public schools have to contend with that set them up for failure and penalize them when they aren't able to overcome the obstacles that were intentionally placed before them to ensure they fail. We need local assessments and data points at this time that are realistic, measurable and take into account the unique needs to the community as we know that not all communities are experiencing the same impacts from COVID. This is yet again why equity is important."
Love said Arizona has the highest rate of COVID-19 in the world and are the lowest rate when it comes to funding schools.
"We need to make sure schools are safe before return instead of exploiting messaging around social emotional needs to send students back to school prematurely," Love said. "We need to adhere to the science and the science says that Arizona should not be discussing reopening for in person schools with the numbers so out of control in our state. We have closed gyms, night clubs and movie theaters, but we are expected to open schools? I need the governor to make this logic make sense to me and many Arizona families."