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Many Arizona Educators Urge Governor To Delay The Start Of School

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hospitals in Arizona are reaching capacity. Coronavirus infections there continue to rise. And the governor, who once pushed ahead with reopening, has now delayed the start of school. Is that enough? From our member station KJZZ, Rocio Hernandez reports.

ROCIO HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: Arizona students are some of the first in the nation to go back to school. Some districts opened their doors as early as end of July. But that won't be the case this year. In June, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order pushing back the reopening of brick-and-mortar schools.

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DOUG DUCEY: At this point in time, we are going to delay the first day of school till August 17.

HERNANDEZ: That's too soon, says teacher Stacy Brosius at Deer Valley Unified School District in Phoenix.

STACY BROSIUS: I don't want to be the teacher that gets COVID and have my third-graders have to attend my funeral. But I also don't want to be the teacher that has to go to one of my students' funerals.

HERNANDEZ: She's not alone. In a recent survey of 7,600 educators by the state's largest teachers union, 8 in 10 said schools should reopen only after health experts determine that it's safe. Brosius and a growing number of teachers and school officials question whether there is enough time for the state to get its COVID crisis under control so that in-person instruction can be made safe.

MONICA TREJO: We need a safe learning environment for kids. And no district can ensure that given the current circumstance as Arizona is now the No. 1 global pandemic hot spot.

HERNANDEZ: Monica Trejo is one of more than 80 Arizona school board members who have so far signed on to a letter calling on the state to keep school buildings closed at least until October. Even before that letter came out, Governor Ducey has said he's not married to his original delay opening date of August 17.

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DUCEY: We put the date out there, and I said I think last week or the week before it's an aspirational date.

DAWN PENICH-THACKER: Having a mixed message every day makes it impossible for us to plan.

HERNANDEZ: Dawn Penich-Thacker is a spokeswoman for the education advocacy group Save Our Schools Arizona. They, too, are saying that October is the earliest that schools should be allowed to reopen. That would go against calls from the Trump administration for all schools to fully reopen in the fall. Republican Governor Doug Ducey is a strong Trump ally, but he says his relationship with the president won't play into his decision-making.

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DUCEY: We're not going to play politics, OK? It's just not going to happen. We're going to do what's in the best interest of the state of Arizona.

HERNANDEZ: But teachers like Stacy Brosius want more specific details from Ducey and soon.

BROSIUS: He should have said something. Parents and teachers need a plan. And granted, we know right now August 17 is that date. But give everybody a chance to prepare and be ready for the next step.

HERNANDEZ: While Arizona's governor has the power to set a statewide school reopening date, individual school districts don't have to adhere to it. Some have committed to keeping distance learning going through October, others at least until September. For NPR News, I'm Rocio Hernandez in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.