Arizona Education Association

Fall 2020

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Around AEA 6 ADVOCATE | FALL 2020 Sources: A rizona teacher Dave Nelson was stunned when school board members in the J.O. Combs Unified School District voted 3-2 in early August to order educators and students back into schools on August 17, 2020, against the recommendation of state health officials. Teachers didn't have adequate PPE or sanitizing supplies. They had no idea how many students would be in their classrooms. Many educators in this small, rural district have medical health concerns, or their spouses, children or parents have health concerns, and they fear Arizona is nowhere near having its COVID-19 pandemic under control. The state was reporting about 900 new COVID-19 cases a day as the number of cases in the state exceeded 200,000 and deaths near 4,600. Statewide, the percentage of COVID-19 test-takers who test positive was about 10 percent, higher than the national average of 6.5 percent and much higher than its neighbors in New Mexico (2.5 percent) and Utah (8.6 percent.) "Our belief is that it's not safe. These are minimal standards to reduce the risk of exposure," said Nelson, of the state metrics around reopening. With help from the Arizona Education Association, Combs teachers met, talked into the night over Zoom, and decided they simply couldn't risk the lives of their family members and students by rushing into in-person education. That week, they began informing administrators that they wouldn't be at work on Monday, August 17—instead they'd be using medical leave or expanded family and medical leave provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). With a "sickout" in place, district officials had no choice but to cancel classes on Monday. And Tuesday. And on Wednesday. In the face of continued, united opposition by educators, on August 19, the J.O. Combs school board members voted 4-1 to reverse their previous decision to open schools. Instead, educators would provide virtual learning to students until at least August 27, when school officials will re-evaluate health and safety indicators. At the time this publication went to print, the school board met once more and delayed in-person learning to September 8, 2020. What's next isn't clear. Nelson, who also is president of the AEA-affiliated J.O. Combs Education Association, hopes that educators, parents and administrators can work together on a plan that relies on remote learning until it's safer for students and educators to return to classrooms. Afraid but United, Arizona Teachers Stage Sickout to Stop Reopening

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