A school district outside of Phoenix was forced to cancel its classroom re-openings Monday after teachers planned a “sick out” and vowed not to show up to lead in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The J.O. Combs Unified School District said in a letter to families published online Friday that schools would not be able to reopen for in-person instruction on Monday as planned due to “insufficient staffing levels.” Virtual learnings also will be canceled Monday.
“In response to this week’s Governing Board decision to resume in-person instruction on Monday, we have received an overwhelming response from staff indicating that they do not feel safe returning to classrooms with students,” Superintendent Dr. Gregory A. Wyman wrote. “In response, we have received a high volume of staff absences for Monday citing health and safety concerns.”
The school district could not confirm whether staff absences would continue past Monday and when in-person instruction may resume. An update would be provided by 5 p.m. Monday. All elementary schools in the district would still offer breakfast and lunch meal service for students available for pick up between 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.
“Please know that we are acutely aware of how polarizing this issue is, and how challenging these ongoing developments are for our entire community,” Wyman wrote. “We will continue to work closely with our employees and our families to develop solutions that provide a safe and healthy return to school.”
The J.O. Combs Unified School District is located in Pinal County, which meets two out of the three benchmarks set by the Arizona Department of Health Services to recommend an initial school reopening.
As of Thursday, the county has witnessed cases on a two-week decline or a two-week case rate of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 population, and hospital visits due to COVID-like illnesses have remained below 10% in the region over the past two weeks. However, it did not meet the benchmark for an initial opening that recommends two weeks of percent positivity less than 7% within the county.
Despite not meeting the state health guidelines, J.O. Combs Unified School District, as well as the Phoenix-area Queen Creek Unified School District, both voted last week to resume in-person instruction, AZ Family reported. President of the Queen Creek Teachers Association, Jacob Frantz, said dozens of teachers have resigned as students prepare to return to the classroom in that district Monday.
“It was a very heartbreaking decision. We spend years of our lives dedicating ourselves to these students and building relationships with our coworkers,” he said.