Safford school to remain full-time in the classroom

Sarah Bingham speaks before the Safford School Board Friday morning, asking to keep child in the classroom full-time rather than return to distance or hybrid instruction. - David Bell Photo/Gila Valley Central

SAFFORD — The Safford School Board has opted to keep children in the classroom full-time.

By a 4-1 vote Friday morning at a special meeting at the David M. Player Center for the Arts, the board decided to remain with full-time in-person instruction rather than go to the hybrid method of instruction as recommended by Superintendent AJ Taylor.

“What the state metrics are saying, and what is recommended to us to consider, was that when the metrics get to a certain level we’re to consider virtual learning when it gets to the substantial categories,” Taylor said.

“Our county numbers have been rising since we’ve been back to in-person (instruction). Contact tracing is revealing that COVID is being spread in clusters. Whether that’s at school or different households, but what was shared with us is that, as we’ve come back to full in-person, kids may be a-symptomatic but still carrying it, going home and then families are then catching it. And that’s an explanation of some of the numbers.”

Taylor also recommended keeping athletics open to students.

“Everyone wants to get back to as normal as we can. This whole thing is frustrating (and) we want this to be over as soon as possible,” Taylor told the audience. “We care about this community; I know that each one of you care about the community (and) care about our kids. You have to realize that we do, too.”

After hearing from about a dozen parents asking for full in-person instruction to remain in place, four members of the board voted to keep children in the classroom, with just one member voting to go to the hybrid method in the short-term.

In a letter to parents sent Friday after the meeting, Safford High School Principal Torey Leitzke said the district needs parents’ help.

“When our students’ educations are on the line because of a pandemic that is focused on numbers and categories, our community must do their part so that the schools can do theirs,” Leitzke wrote. “This is far from over and we are learning how to deal with moving forward in this ‘new normal.’ ”

The board meeting was called following a letter issued to all the school districts from Brian Douglas, director of the Graham County Health Department. His letter suggested consideration of hybrid or full distance learning due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Graham County in October.

At the board meeting, Douglas explained that Graham County is not currently meeting two of the three benchmarks that the Arizona Department of Health Services put forward to determine if in-person instruction full-time is safe. Currently, Greenlee County is \the only county in the state that meets the criteria.

Douglas also said Graham County is the only county in the state without a “mask mandate,” meaning that citizens are required to wear a face covering when out in public. He said he and his agency continue to strongly recommend the wearing of face coverings as well as social distancing as the best way to slow the spread of coronavirus.