COVID-19 shocked the nation and world with its damage to health, the economy and how people live and do things. It is still raging long after many leaders hoped it would be gone or seriously diminished. Yet it is clear that Americans need to get back closer to normal activity, even if that means a new normal.
The fact that the pandemic falls in a presidential election year has affected how it is viewed. Meanwhile, the reopening of schools is at the forefront. Arizona schools finished out last year with huge challenges for remote learning. Now they are trying to do a better job amid fear for teachers and students and an obvious need for in-school instruction as soon as that is possible. School in Arizona starts earlier than it used to, and some districts already are open with remote learning.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has worked with the Democratic state school superintendent, Kathy Hoffman, in developing a plan that carries an air of bipartisanship. Ducey sometimes is criticized for his hands-off approach, and he is leaving many details to local districts. However, Americans generally like their education to be that way, and the unknowns and fear involved with COVID-19 call for a flexible approach that will allow schools to get going while testing the waters.
That said, there is a big need for schools to begin functioning. Many parents do not have the ability or time to teach their own children, and their need to earn a living contributes greatly to that.
Ducey, after a request from Hoffman, last week mandated that public health officials decide by Aug. 7 on data that will guide schools as to when they can hold in-person classes. His order says teachers will receive their full salary for the coming year, the normal 180 days of instruction will be provided and schools will get $370 million in federal CARES Act funding with a condition. They will have to have at least one site for students to go by Aug. 17 if their family situation requires that. Not every school or every teacher will have to be back to normal.
Offering such a carrot is wise. While European schools have been operating successfully for a while, those in the U.S. need to regain faith that ours can as well. Starting out gradually is the best approach to avoid later shutdowns.
Arizona’s educators, including those in Pinal County, have been working to plan how to operate in an environment where COVID-19 still exists. Ducey’s order is a big step in that direction while allowing local control, which parents generally favor.