Throughout the summer and fall we continued to call on Governor Ducey to implement a statewide COVID-19 school safety plan. He refused to meet with educators and left it to school districts to develop their own plans. Now, after educators, school administrators, and parents have done the hard work to move toward reopening schools (and remain open), the governor issues an executive order to take credit for others’ year-long planning and efforts without offering any resources.
The safety of our students and educators is our number one priority, but guaranteeing safety in a pandemic requires additional funding. Making safe in-person instruction a reality requires state mandates and resources that compel and allow school districts and institutions of higher education to put in place the mitigating measures necessary to protect against COVID-19. When the proper mitigation precautions are taken — masking, social distancing, proper ventilation, contact tracing, hand washing — the data and the science suggests a return to in-person learning may be possible. The science also says that community spread is key to keeping our schools safe, yet Governor Ducey has chosen to focus on reopening schools without any kind of measures to mitigate community spread such as a statewide mask mandate.
Additionally, we must take the time thank the educators who have taken on the challenging work of educating through a global pandemic. We must thank the parents who have worked with educators to take on the difficult work keeping our students’ learning on track and making plans to return to in-person instruction. These collaborative efforts of educators, parents, students, and public health experts – coming together to reopen school buildings safely and equitably, following the guidance from public health authorities by implementing distancing, retrofitting ventilation systems, and providing the PPE and supplies needed – are the reason our students and educators can return to the classroom safely.
We have learned an incredible amount about the inequities in our education system through this time of crisis and about the devastating impact of years of neglect and underfunding our schools by state leaders. We have learned that our most vulnerable students, those living in poverty and our students of color, have been impacted the most. We must remember these lessons as we return to in-person instruction. We have a better understanding about the resources our students need and deserve. We need elected leaders with the will to provide those resources so our students can be successful now and after the pandemic.