Governing board sends students back in-person, community split over issue


Graph by Daily Case Counts

Graph showing COVID-19 trends in Arizona. The low point was during the stay at home order in Spring of 2020, and the high point was December of 2020.

At the 7 p.m. meeting on Jan 13, the CUSD Governing Board voted 3-2 in favor of sending students back to school in-person after MLK day. 

The meeting opened as usual with a roll call and the Pledge of Allegiance, however, President Barb Mozdzen then opened up the floor to citizen comments. Out of the 30 speakers, 21 spoke in favor of going to school in-person, 6 preferred virtual learning, and 3 were unclear about what mode of instruction they were in favor of. 

Multiple CUSD students spoke in favor of returning in-person, listing their mental health, issues focus, and declining grades as their reasoning. A twelve year old student from CTA Liberty explained that virtual learning is “just not the same” as in-person instruction. Another speaker, a Chandler parent, echoed this, stating “virtual learning is inadequate.” 

Michelle Swartz, the math department chair at Casteel High School, was among these supporters. She credited the mitigation efforts set in place by the district and claimed that she “feel[s] safest at school.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, those requesting that students stay online explained their worry for the community, citing the spike in Arizona COVID-19 cases as their concern. “Keep classes virtual until it is safe for all of us,” one parent explained. Yet another speaker countered that claim, stating “our state is open and operating. Our schools must to.” 

This argument arose out of the fact that Arizona is now considered a “hot spot” for the virus. Board member Lindsay Love mentioned this multiple times. 

According to Maricopa County’s COVID-19 data, increased exponentially over the course of December, and between the board meeting and publishing this story, the state will have gained 7,000 new cases. 

For a brief period during the meeting Love proposed a virtual option besides COA to give families the choice. This proposition was shot down by Dr. Craig Gilbert, who noted that there are not enough teachers or resources to offer both online and virtual classes at once. 

The board’s vote comes after Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s “State of the State” address during which he threatened to pull funding from public schools that remain virtual. “We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,” he said. Ducey’s comment was also mentioned at the board meeting, where in the past, many community speakers have accused the district of prioritizing funding over students’ wellbeing. 

It seems too short of a period and too soon to determine whether students’ two week online hiatus will have an effect on the county’s positive cases. Regardless, CUSD schools will open their doors to receive students in-person on Jan 19.