The decision left open the possibility of returning earlier if Maricopa County meets the reopening benchmarks regarding the coronavirus pandemic that the Arizona Department of Health Services and Arizona Department of Education released Aug. 6. A return would come with a one-week notice, according to the resolution.
The decision came on a 3-2 vote with board members Kristina Reese and Jill Wilson dissenting.
“Shame on us for putting the education of our kids at the bottom of our priorities,” Reese said. “We would rather go to our gyms, rivers, bars, amusement parks and everything else before schools open. It’s backwards.”
“My stance has always been kids first," Wilson said. "It will never change. This is an impossible decision.”
Board President Amy Kaylor said she is “emotionally fragile” from what the board and district has been through in the past week. She thanked everyone from community to staff for their work in the past week, but pointedly said she would not thank Gov. Doug Ducey for leaving decisions in their lap.
Board Member Scott Glover said everyone wants to return as soon as possible and urged the community to engage in all the practices that keep people healthy.
Meanwhile, Board Member Greg Wojtovich said he would want history to judge him by his decision on this matter.
The decision aligned with the recommendation of Superintendent Mike Thomason, who presented the state benchmarks to the board.
Thomason’s presentation showed the county meets one of three standards, that of two straight weeks of declining cases per 100,000 population. It also could be one week away from meeting declining hospitalizations for two weeks, as it did last week but not the week before.
However, Thomason noted that percent positivity on testing remains far above the 7% standard the state set for a return to some in-person learning. That was for hybrid models, but Higley has not put a hybrid model in place.
At the beginning of the meeting, Thomason read 26 emails or letters the district received about the decision, nearly all urging a return to in-person school. Two urged waiting, but one of those included a change.org petition to wait. However, that letter did include many questions about staying in remote learning that remained unanswered. A few others spoke on specific aspects of the questions.
The board also reviewed on first read a policy requiring face masks in schools and the state of where the district’s mitigation plan is. Ducey’s executive order require those elements.
The district also reviewed for the board the differences between remote learning—done on a temporary basis in substitution for in-person learning—and online learning, meant to stay in place but with students able to switch to in-person at certain dates if online learning is not working for the student.