Safford School District delays re-opening classrooms, Thatcher and Pima return on Monday

The Safford Unified School District Governing Board as shown during an August meeting discussion whether to open the schools to in-person instruction.

SAFFORD — On the same night the Thatcher School Board voted to open the new school year in the classroom, the Safford School Board voted 4-1 to continue distance learning for at least two more weeks.

Safford Unified School District Superintendent AJ Taylor recommended against re-opening the classrooms to students, due to the area’s failure to meet the safe opening guidelines set forward by Arizona Department of Health Services and Arizona Department of Education.

“I just do not feel good about going outside of what’s recommended to us from the health officials,” he said.

Earlier this week, Pima Unified School District notified parents that classroom instruction would resume Monday, Aug. 17.

Last week, the Arizona Department of Health Services issued recommended guidelines for the re-opening of schools, including that there should be minimal spread of the COVID-19 virus in a community before a school is re-opened.

According to the Department of Health Services, minimal spread is defined as less than 10 cases per 100,000 population, less than 5 percent positivity and less than 5 percent exhibiting COVID-like illness.

The ADHS COVID-19 data dashboard shows Graham County with 1,517.8 cases per 100,000 population and 9.6 percent positive. However, as parent Kayleen Leachet pointed out in an e-mail to the district, Safford schools serve the Safford area, not Thatcher, Pima or the east side of the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

The ADHS dashboard shows, as of Thursday, 274 cases in the 85546 Safford-area zip code, and the U.S. Census Bureau and Postal Service show that zip code has a population of 17,822. That results in 1,536.9 cases per 100,000 population.

The ADHS dashboard does not show weekly case numbers by zip code.

Taylor read to the board e-mails from parents on a possible return to the classroom, with 10 parents in favor of returning children to the classroom and four in favor of delaying in-person instruction.

“All the parents out there who want their kids back to school: wear a mask in public and let’s see the numbers drop. And if you don’t like that idea, well then, you’re going to have to suffer with the idea that we might have to do online school,” said board member Craig Hackett. “We have to follow this; this is what the state is telling us to do, whether we like it or not.”

The lone vote against the delay was made by board member Matt Harrington.

“What I recommend and what I’m for is offering a choice, and then letting people use their common sense — or lack of — to make that choice,” Harrington said. “If people want to send their kids back to school, I think we should provide that opportunity. If they don’t want to, then we should have an opportunity for them not to. And then it’s everyone’s choice and they can be responsible for their own actions.”