Parents, students and community members in the grassroots group Keep Our Kids in School rallied for change in the Tempe Union High School District’s virtual-learning-only policy that was implemented Nov. 30 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents and students converged at the district office, 500 W. Guadalupe Road in Tempe, at 6 p.m. on Dec. 16 in an attempt to get school-district high school campuses reopened for classes.
Organizers said that parents and students are tired of the district focusing on how to keep students out of school instead of working to safely get them back on campuses. Parents also want to know what the plan is to get Tempe Union high schools open for in-person learning next semester.
A news release from the group stated that members “recognize the ongoing potential for inadequate learning, a substantial increase in failing grades and a rise in mental-health issues” due to virtual-only classes.
The news release further stated, “We demand a complete, uniform and equitable education that our tax dollars pay for and our children deserve. Towards this goal, we demand that the district provide proper PPE to support teachers and staff, along with a comprehensive plan detailing the criteria that will be used to return children to the classroom next semester.”
In an email to parents dated Nov. 20, Tempe Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil notified families that students would return to virtual learning beginning Nov. 30, with no indication of a return date.
On Oct. 13, TUHSD had begun hybrid learning, consisting of two days a week on campus. Rally organizers contend that although TUHSD had met Arizona Department of Health Services’ COVID-19 metrics more than three weeks prior, and families requested more days on campus, the district repeatedly refused to offer in-person learning to the students who desired it.
The delay in returning to in-person educational opportunities, and now the closure of schools to TUHSD students, has prompted parents and students to speak out again, Keep Our Kids in School said.
Keep Our Kids in School says that it demands that TUHSD opens for the “uniform, fair and equitable education that students are afforded by the Arizona State Constitution. Returning to completely virtual learning, when surrounding districts offer in-person classes, does not fulfill the district’s obligation to students. Additionally, we demand that TUHSD provide instruction to students on Wednesdays, as we believe the district is currently in violation of meeting minimum instruction requirements. Surrounding East Valley districts, including Chandler, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Higley, continue to offer a full-time in-person option. The disparity between Tempe Union and surrounding districts means Tempe Union students are currently being denied fair and equitable learning opportunities.”
In making its most-recent decision to close campuses on Nov. 30 due to rising levels of COVID-19 in the area, TUHSD said the decision was guided by Maricopa County and Arizona Department of Health Services guidelines and metrics.
Tempe Union, which includes Corona del Sol and Marcos de Niza high schools, said that it has been carefully monitoring public-health metrics. Factors that TUHSD took into consideration in its decision to close campuses include:
- TUHSD students in quarantine: While the positive-case count has remained low, the district has seen an increase in recent reports and, as of Nov. 20, nearly 600 students and staff had been isolated or quarantined due to possible exposure on campus.
- Substitute-teacher shortage: A growing number of staff are experiencing COVID-like symptoms due to flu, colds or other viruses. Staff members are required to remain home if there are any symptoms. TUHSD is having extreme difficulty securing substitute teachers for those classrooms. Moving to contingency reduces the risk of teachers being out sick.
- Off-campus behaviors: The district has seen multiple cases of students sent to school with symptoms or while awaiting COVID test results. These incidents put staff and other students at risk in addition to causing preventable school quarantines.
- Projection models: Current models predict exponential growth of COVID-19 cases in December, projecting as many as 250,000 positive daily U.S. cases with 3,000 to 5,000 deaths a day. Higher spread translates into higher positive COVID cases on campuses, higher counts of quarantine and greater risk for the TUHSD community.
Metrics will continue to determine how long virtual-learning-only will continue in the Tempe Union district, it said. Students will be brought back to campuses when metrics indicate that it is safe to do so again.
Keep Our Kids in School organizers asked those who attended the rally to wear a mask and be observant of social distancing.