- The Washington Times
Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The J.O. Combs Unified School District was forced to shutter classrooms for another two days as teachers refused again to return to school for in-person learning.

The Phoenix-area district had planned to welcome back students on Monday, but it was forced to cancel classes after 109 teachers and staff called in sick amid concerns about the novel coronavirus.

“While we continue to work diligently on this matter, we also continue to receive a high volume of staff absences, and in turn will have to cancel all classes on Tuesday as well as Wednesday,” the district said in a Monday post.

Teachers’ unions in Phoenix and across the nation have held protests urging school districts to stick with online learning, citing the risk from COVID-19, pitting them against some parents asking for the option to send their children back to class.

The Combs Education Association is part of the Arizona Education Association, which has called for in-person instruction to be delayed “at least until the first nine weeks of the school calendar,” and then only after reaching certain transmission and hospitalization benchmarks.

“A Governing Board meeting will be scheduled for Wednesday evening at 6:00 pm to discuss next steps and options for a return to school,” said the Combs statement. “We are fully aware that a timely resolution to this matter is critical, and are committed to providing updates to our families as soon as they are available.”

Parents on the J.O. Combs page on Facebook sparred over whether the district should offer in-person learning, with some calling on the district to go to all-virtual lessons while the issue is being resolved. Others noted that the nearby Queen Creek school district was able to reopen Monday for in-person instruction.

“Teachers are protesting against the will of the families in our community! Stop funding them, fire them once sick time is out!” said one post.

In an Aug. 3 statement, Arizona Superintendent of Schools Kathy Hoffman said it was unlikely most school districts would be able to reopen their doors on Aug. 17, saying “our state is simply not ready to have all our students and educators congregate in school facilities.”

Arizona reported 473 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday as transmissions continue to decline after peaking in early July, at one point registering more than 4,000 new cases per day. Arizona’s population was 7.3 million in 2019.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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