‘What Will Happen if My Teacher Dies?’: Kids Ask Ducey Tough Questions on Schools Reopening

two children wearing face masks sitting at a table drawing

By Jessica Swarner

August 3, 2020

Arizona schools can reopen in-person as early as Aug. 17. 

“What if I bring the sickness home to my family?”

“What will happen if my teacher dies?”

“Should we add a memorial page to our yearbook?” 

These are some of the questions Arizona kids are asking Gov. Doug Ducey when it comes to schools reopening this fall.

A Phoenix mother of two elementary schoolers, who requested anonymity due to her job in higher education, recently saw a similar video high schoolers made and wanted to bring younger children into the conversation.

“I was like, this is really powerful. Maybe we need to hear from the little kids too,” she told The Copper Courier. “My daughter … she watched [the video of high school students] and she was like, ‘We have things we could say too.’” 

She asked fellow elementary and middle school parents if anyone would like to contribute a question. Then Heather Kelch, a Phoenix musician and community activist, edited the clips and created the video.

The Phoenix mom sent the compilation to the governor’s office. But she hasn’t received a response from him.

The governor’s office did not respond to The Copper Courier by publication time.

Lots of Unknowns

The Phoenix mom said at the moment her children’s school district, like many others across the state, is planning to offer multiple learning options and allow kids to stay home if their parents wish.

But what she is mostly worried about is teachers being forced to go back to the classrooms if the demand is there. 

“Teachers, a number of them are in high-risk groups,” she said. “Even those who are not older or don’t have any underlying pre-existing conditions, if they’re not being given a choice … that’s fundamentally unfair.”

Many teachers are also parents, which adds to concerns of more chances for the virus to spread through households.

The children in the video added their worries about what may happen when they return.

“Gov. Ducey, where are we going to find all these [substitute teachers]?” one boy asks.

And a girl asks, “Am I not supposed to hug my mom because she’s high-risk?”

RELATED: ‘Huge Concern’: Arizona Schools At Risk of COVID-19 Lawsuits When Reopening

As of now, Arizona schools can reopen in-person as early as Aug. 17, despite pushback from some health experts.

The Phoenix mom involved in the video said while high schoolers can better control themselves and help reduce the spread of the disease, younger children can’t be expected to do as much to keep their teachers and each other safe. 

“Those are the ages that you can’t just put them in a desk and expect them to sit there and not go up and give a hug to their friends. [You] can’t expect them to keep a mask on for hours at a time,” she said. “It’s just not realistic for young children.” 

The state has struggled to manage the pandemic since Ducey lifted the stay-at-home order May 15, at one point becoming the No. 1 global hotspot for new cases.

The governor chose to once again close certain businesses–including bars and gyms–at the end of June to try to help with the ballooning spread.

As the state works to get on top of the first wave of COVID-19, health experts are warning of another resurgence in the fall lasting at least into the winter.

The state plans to release benchmarks on Aug. 7 to help school staff use COVID-19 data to decide when they think it’s safe to return to the classroom.

Improvements to Remote Learning

The Phoenix mom said one thing she wants parents to realize is that remote learning this fall will not be the same experience it was in the spring. 

“I think that’s what a lot of families are worried about,” she said. “[The spring] was their only example of distance they’ve ever had and it was not a success. Let’s be honest—it was not a success.”

She said her daughter participated in summer school and even that was “light years” better, simply because teachers had more time to prepare and plan out an appropriate curriculum. 

Austin Byers, a new Arizona State University graduate who will be teaching biology to freshmen and sophomores at Higley High School in Gilbert this fall, agreed that distance learning has already much improved.  

“It’s a lot more structured, whereas it was a bit scrambly in the spring,” he told The Copper Courier. “And now it’s really methodical, and the expectations are a little bit higher for the kids and for us as well.” 

He said he’s able to virtually speak face-to-face with students every school day and even break them into smaller chat rooms when working on group projects. 

RELATED: Biden Lays Out Plan to Keep AZ Kids Safe and Reopen Schools

The Phoenix mom said the addition of live instruction has made a big difference for her children. 

While some students in Arizona didn’t have access to internet and/or computers in the spring, efforts are in the works to allow more children to participate in remote learning. For example, Tucson is working to offer free Wi-Fi access citywide in the coming months, starting with underserved areas.

The Phoenix mom added that while she understands that some children cannot stay at home for the duration of the next school year, she hopes parents consider teachers and staff when making their decisions. 

“I think all of us in the video have already decided that we’re going to keep our kids home, so it’s not an issue that we’re trying to advocate for our own children,” she said. “At this point, we’re trying to advocate for the health and safety of our communities, and, most importantly, of our teachers.”

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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