A recent letter from the Casa Grande Elementary School District Governing Board states reasons for delaying in-person classes at the K-8 schools.

The CGESD letter says that as a governing body they have long understood: “that educators are invaluable in the lives of children...” Unfortunately, this belief is not reflected by the decision to not open schools in August. Casa Grande and America’s school children, parents, businesses, community members and organizations are put at a greater disadvantage with your decision.

Your letter stated, “yes, we know more about COVID-19 than we knew before.” Missing were updated data facts that younger children are less likely to be infected, less likely to be severely ill and less likely to transmit the disease. Worldwide, countries that have never closed schools or are opening schools find no instances of children transmitting the disease. Schools opening have not led to “any significant increase in coronavirus infections among children, parents or staff.” Using the “health fear” rationale on this community and its children does not contribute to a positive solution.

CG’s school children will now miss valuable in-person teacher instruction, healthy physical activities, social events, good nutrition and safe environments. Many students in CGESD have no access to the internet or technology devices at home within our rural areas. Toward the end of this past spring semester, it was reported there was a significant drop of parents and students participating in picking up and delivering lessons. Can we afford the loss of student learning, with Arizona in an existing educational crisis, by ranking at the bottom of the national average? Our students’ future job opportunities are already disadvantaged to compete in the national or global marketplace.

Schools serve at-risk students to combat truancy, phobias, depression, suicide, drug dependency and abusive home or social situations. Too much screen time can result in inattention, impulsivity and mental health disorder. Preliminary studies show that even top students are academically falling behind with the most disadvantaged students experiencing the most significant learning loss.

CG’s parents are currently struggling with hardships in supporting family household responsibilities and providing financial needs. This is further compounded by a shortage or lack of child care available. They are not certified teachers of instruction and feel bewildered as they witness the loss to their children’s education.

CG’s employers and businesses need parents as part of their workforce. Workers and businesses support our economy and contribute taxes for government operations, including your district budget, as the largest employer in the city. Schools are only free because of taxes and if not forthcoming, they can no longer be available to pay teachers and employees? Taxes contribute to our city, county, state and national governmental services. There is no magical money tree, aside from our bad habit to continue national borrowing from Asia!

CG’s community, private places of worship, nonprofit, public-help agencies and health care businesses are also impacted by the economy with this continued shutdown. How long can these agencies continue to provide good health care and public support including COVID-19 crisis health and economic assistance?

Parents have been waiting to work with school personnel to provide a plan with safe COVID-19 procedures in place to open schools. The district could implement a non-liability condition to those employees and students returning for the district’s protection of liability. Those concerned, both employees and students, could be given the option to utilize online distance learning as an alternative.

In closing, I commend and thank community members for serving on boards and as elected officials, and I know many of these board members personally as wonderful individuals. But for many years now, public schools have been losing enrollment to charter and private schools and this decision further contributes to this trend. For some years now, 65% of those graduating from Pinal County high schools are not meeting college level reading requirements, determined to be at the high school sophomore level. Parents often choose alternative schools that provide higher academic rigor and increased safety and discipline policies.

Yes, residents, please call the number listed in the letter, 520-836-2111. Access the district website www.cgesd.org/ to voice your concerns about your tax dollars at work. The largest tax expenses on your home county property tax bill is for local education.

I speak as a concerned CG citizen of 60 years and as a public school educator with over 30 years in this community. I am disappointed and disheartened by this decision that will only continue the negative, ripple effects to this pandemic health and economic crisis. I end with a quote from Ben Carson, who rose from poverty as an African American student to be one of the greatest neurosurgeons in the world. He now serves as the 17th secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: “Education is the fundamental principle of what makes America a success. It is the foundation of what truly makes our country ‘the Land of Opportunity.’”

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Gayle Haro is a longtime Casa Grande resident and educator.

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