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Local Opinion: Amphi Board needs plan for COVID outbreak
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Local Opinion: Amphi Board needs plan for COVID outbreak

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Recently there has been increased discussion regarding when to reopen schools to traditional in-person learning. However, recent school closures in Arizona and across the United States demonstrate that the coronavirus still poses a substantial risk to health and safety of our students, staff and the community.

As a teacher, I understand personally the difficulties our educators are facing. As a candidate for the Amphitheater school board, I have spoken with hundreds of Amphi staff, parents and voters about the current situation. Remote instruction is not ideal, but this is not an ideal situation. Amphi must be prepared for the unfortunate reality that reopening schools will risk an outbreak of this very serious illness among students and staff. Our community needs to know what the plan is to protect the health and safety of the Amphi family in case of an outbreak.

This summer Amphitheater Public Schools adopted reopening plans based on parent and student choice: fully remote learning through Amphi Academy Online or in-person instruction when possible through the district’s 21 physical schools. According to the Amphi website, the earliest in-person learning would resume is Oct. 12, the Monday following fall break.

Despite the fact that Pima County has met the looser benchmarks set by the Arizona Department of Health Services to partially reopen schools, the Pima County Health Department advised against returning to in-person learning at this time based on their additional criteria. I agree with the experts at the Health Department; it is still too early to reopen schools for in-person instruction.

We need not look far to see the challenges and risks of reopening schools. Two weeks ago, TUSD was forced to temporarily close an elementary school just one day after on-site care for at-risk students resumed. Amphitheater schools also opened for such services on Aug. 17.

Amphi employees, parents and students need to know that the district has a plan to keep them safe, including a plan to close schools in case of an outbreak.

A plan to reclose schools due to a coronavirus outbreak should follow three key principles.

First, a school closure plan should be expert driven. Our experts at the Health Department do not recommend that in-person learning resume at this time. The district should continue to follow the experts’ recommendations.

Second, the plan, its creation and its implementation must be fully transparent and available for the public. There should be clear guidelines for when to quarantine staff or students after a positive test for COVID-19 and a threshold for when to temporarily close a school and return to remote instruction. Students, parents and staff must understand what is expected of them if — and when — schools are forced to close.

Finally, any plan adopted should err on the side of caution. In addition to the obvious and tragic risks to health and life, an unchecked outbreak at one of our schools would lose the confidence of the Amphi family. Trust can only be earned and validated through transparency; our employees, students, parents and the community must trust that the district is putting their health and safety first.

Amphi needs an advocate on the governing board who pushes for more transparency and community engagement. If elected this November to the Amphi Governing Board, I will be that advocate for the community.

Nathan Davis is a candidate for the Amphi Governing Board. He is a lifelong resident of Amphitheater and currently teaches middle school in Tucson.

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