JIM SHARPE

Phoenix school district’s reasons for not opening may be why they should

Sep 15, 2020, 1:15 PM | Updated: 1:15 pm
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Union High School District)...
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Union High School District)
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Union High School District)

As things continue to improve and more Arizona counties get closer to meeting the state health department’s guidelines to reopen schools, Phoenix Union High School District appears to have already declared defeat. They just announced that they will keep their schools closed through the end of 2020.

Kids do better IN school. The mental toll that online-only learning has taken on my kids has me pushing our school district to open.

Yet, out of all the districts in the Valley, I may understand most why Phoenix Union’s decision to keep classrooms closed might be the right decision for them. That’s because it’s based on where it is located: Maryvale and central and south Phoenix — and because of whom the district serves: high school students.

Sadly, those reasons are also why their students have the most to lose.

The district says its neighborhoods are “among the hardest hit by COVID.”

Nationwide statistics show that low-income and minority neighborhoods have been impacted more severely by coronavirus. That’s due in no small part to the large number of multi-generational households within those neighborhoods and the grandmas and grandpas within those households who are at a higher risk.

The district also says that the COVID spread in its ZIP codes is still in the “substantial” range — so the superintendent says they’re relying on state health benchmarks when deciding to stay closed.

Plus, they are a high school-only district. We know that little kids are at substantially lower risk for getting sick from coronavirus (or even catching or spreading it) but most high schoolers are physically adults — and thus more likely to get their at-home abuelita sick.

Too bad many of the same reasons Phoenix Union has decided to stay closed are the exact same reasons their students will be hurt so badly by the district’s decision. High school is where low-income students earn much-needed scholarships or receive vocational training that can help pull them out of poverty.

And they are the least likely to have what they need at home to learn effectively in the solely-virtual realm — be it online access, a connected device or simply a quiet space in which to work.

I’m not sure if I agree with Phoenix Union’s decision to keep classrooms closed for another two-and-a-half months and I don’t know if the district has fully proven its case — but their decision proves one thing: there are only slightly better bad decisions to choose from right now.

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Jim Sharpe

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Phoenix school district’s reasons for not opening may be why they should