Arizona parents grapple with sending kids back to school
PHOENIX – As the new school year gets underway in Arizona, parents are weighing the benefits and risks of having their kids back in the classroom.
Janna Stults has two daughters ages 8 and 10. They started classes at Silver Valley Elementary School in Mesa last week.
“I do have quite a bit of anxiety about my kids attending school,” Stults said.
Stults, who’s a nurse practitioner, fears her daughters will be exposed to COVID-19 in school. And even though she knows most kids get mild symptoms, she’s worried about the more contagious delta variant, which is fueling a rise in cases and hospitalizations in Arizona.
Chantelle Turner feels differently about sending her 8-year-old daughter to school.
“I actually don’t have any fear of her catching the delta variant or any variant of COVID,” Turner said.
Her daughter will start attending BASIS in Mesa next week, which Turner said was an easy decision to make after her daughter’s experience with in-person learning at her previous school.
“We went through the school year, and she didn’t bring anything home to us,” Turner said. “We remained healthy all year and so did she.”
For Stults, this will be the first time in more than a year that her daughters return to school in person. They did virtual learning at their previous school in Washington before recently moving back to Arizona.
“It was really hard,” she said. “We definitely are now starting to recognize how the social isolation piece impacted them.”
Stults said one of her daughters is having a lot of anxiety about returning to school, not because of COVID-19 but because she hasn’t been in a large group setting in a long time.
For her other daughter, online learning was difficult because she has an individualized education plan and requires special education services.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children return to in-person learning this school year and that they wear a mask even if they’re vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are approved for kids as young as 12.
In April, Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded an order that had directed K-12 public and charter schools in Arizona to require masks. Then in June, the state budget was approved with a provision that prevents schools from mandating masks or vaccines as a condition to participate in in-person instruction.
Turner said she gave her daughter the option to wear a mask to school.
“She said she didn’t want to,” Turner said. “The only thing that we’ve told her is that we just need to respect other people.
“So if her teacher asks her to wear a mask, I ask that she listen to her teacher,” she continued. “Or if we go somewhere where the masks are required, obviously we put them on.”
Stults said she prefers to have her daughters wear a mask to school. But it’s hard for them to do so when hardly any student, teacher or staff member is wearing one at school.
“I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on kids, especially younger kids trying to fit in with their peers,” she said. “If no one else is doing it, it’s really hard to make kids wear their masks.”
Stults said at this point she believes it’s a question of when, not if, her daughters will get COVID-19 in school.
“I’m hoping for the best, but I do expect that my daughters are going to get sick,” she said.
“It’s unfortunate because they have endured a lot over the last year and a half of living in Washington, socially isolating, being in online school to protect them and our family.”