Local teacher Lisa Vaaler joins other teachers as they hold a #Return2SchoolSafely Motor March protest Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Phoenix. Several Arizona teachers voiced fears about returning to school in a state that continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Virus Outbreak Arizona
Local teacher Lisa Vaaler joins other teachers as they hold a #Return2SchoolSafely Motor March protest Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Phoenix. Several Arizona teachers voiced fears about returning to school in a state that continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Teachers are pushing back on school administrators who planned to reopen schools despite failing to meet state health guidelines.

An Arizona school district that had planned to resume in-person classes against the advice of public health officials is now backing off after teachers refused to show up.

The J. O. Combs Unified School District in Pinal County announced that classes will be canceled on Monday, and it’s unclear when they’ll resume.

“We have received an overwhelming response from staff indicating that they do not feel safe returning to classrooms with students,” Superintendent Gregory Wyman wrote in a letter to parents. “In response, we have received a high volume of staff absences for Monday citing health and safety concerns.”

Wyman said all classes are canceled, including virtual classes.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is publishing statistics measuring the spread of the coronavirus in each of Arizona’s 15 counties. The agency has set benchmarks for the gradual reopening in-person instruction, but school districts are not required to follow them. No county has met the threshold at which health officials say it’s safe to resume partial in-person instruction.

Nonetheless, the boards of J.O. Combs, in the San Tan Valley southeast of Phoenix, and the neighboring Queen Unified School District voted this week to begin offering in-person instruction. Both districts said they would continue to provide online learning.

A number of fearful teachers resigned after the decisions.

Most Arizona schools have already started their fall semesters with remote learning, many opting not to consider full in-person instruction until October.

Maricopa County on Friday published a website showing how the state’s health metrics stack up at the school district, city or zip-code level. The data show significant variation across the county, with several more affluent districts in the East Valley already hitting the threshold to hold hybrid in-person and online instruction. Some Phoenix and West Valley districts were showing significantly higher spread of the disease in their areas.


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