Kids First? Arizona Teachers Stage 'Sickout' on First Day of School, Force Cancellation


With the vast majority of Americans back at work, schoolteachers in an Arizona district staged a sickout Monday during what was to be their first day back in the classroom.

KTAR-FM reported a combined 109 members of the faculty and staff of the J.O. Combs United School District in the Phoenix metro area said they would be absent, explaining that they do not feel safe being in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If cases were on the rise in the Grand Canyon State, one could be somewhat sympathetic with the teachers and staff, but the virus has been on the decline for the past six consecutive weeks.

After becoming one of the world’s coronavirus hotspots in June, Arizona has since “flattened the curve” to the point of reporting no new COVID-19 deaths on Monday and just 468 new cases, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.

Pinal County, where J.O. Combs is located, had just 67 new cases on Monday out of a population of nearly a half-million people.

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Nonetheless, J.O. Combs Superintendent Gregory A. Wyman said in a letter to families posted on Facebook that an “overwhelming” number of faculty and staff disagreed with district governing board’s decision to reopen and indicated they would not be showing up for work, “citing health and safety concerns.”

“Due to these insufficient staffing levels, schools will not be able to re-open on Monday as planned,” Wyman said.

“This means that all classes, including virtual learning, will be canceled. At this time, we do not know the duration of these staff absences and cannot yet confirm when in-person instruction may resume.”

Wyman concluded his letter by saying “we are acutely aware of how polarizing this issue is” and promising “to continue to work closely with our employees and our families to develop solutions that provide a safe and healthy return to school.”

The issue of schools reopening is one that communities are grappling with across the United States.

Arizona, like much of America, shut down its schools in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, but Gov. Doug Ducey has left reopening decisions with the school districts.

The Department of Health Services has established three benchmarks as guidelines for the districts.

First, the area should have a decline in the number of cases for at least two weeks or a two-week case rate of less than 100 cases per 100,000.

Next, the region should experience two weeks with hospital visits due to COVID-like illness being 10 percent or less.

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Finally, the COVID-19 test positivity rate should be 7 percent or less. Pinal County is currently at 10.3 percent.

KTAR reported that Ducey did not take issue with school districts reopening even though they do not meet the guidelines.

“We’re supportive of the districts,” he said at a news conference Thursday.

CNBC reported that a German study released last month found that young people do not play a significant role in transmitting the coronavirus.

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The medical faculty of the TU Dresden and University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus tested approximately 1,500 students and 500 teachers in May for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in their blood.

“The results showed that out of 2,045 blood samples collected from students and teachers from across 13 secondary schools in the region, only 12 samples were found to contain antibodies against Covid-19,” the report said.

Further, 24 participants in the study had at least one known case of coronavirus in their households, yet only one of these participants was found to have the antibodies.

The study concluded that schools did not become coronavirus “hotspots” after reopening, as some feared would happen.

Further, NBC News assembled a panel of five pediatricians from around in the country in July , and all of them offered the same assessment: It is safe to put kids back in the classroom.

“In the U.S., children make up about 22 percent of the population, but kids account for only 2 percent of coronavirus cases so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the report said.

Dr. William V. Raszka, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, said children are not good spreaders of the virus to adults, either.

“The younger you are, probably the less likely you are to be able to transmit the disease,” he said.

“Once you get to high school age, you’re going to be a little bit more concerned, [and] once you’re in college age, you’re going to be a lot concerned,” Raszka added.

The vast majority of Americans have returned to work, recognizing there is some level of risk in circulating in public during a pandemic.

By being in the classroom, teachers arguably are among a safer population than many in the workforce.

Obviously, accommodations should be made for those with conditions that make them particularly susceptible to COVID-19, but for most teachers and staff, it’s time to get back to work.

No one is forcing them back into the schools. It’s a free country. If they do not want to teach, they can seek other employment.

For those teachers who decline to return, school districts can either place them on leave without pay (which might provide ample motivation to get them back in class) or inform them their services, or lack thereof, are no longer required.

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Randy DeSoto has written more than 3,000 articles for The Western Journal since he joined the company in 2015. He is a graduate of West Point and Regent University School of Law. He is the author of the book "We Hold These Truths" and screenwriter of the political documentary "I Want Your Money."
Randy DeSoto is the senior staff writer for The Western Journal. He wrote and was the assistant producer of the documentary film "I Want Your Money" about the perils of Big Government, comparing the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Randy is the author of the book "We Hold These Truths," which addresses how leaders have appealed to beliefs found in the Declaration of Independence at defining moments in our nation's history. He has been published in several political sites and newspapers.

Randy graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a BS in political science and Regent University School of Law with a juris doctorate.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Graduated dean's list from West Point
United States Military Academy at West Point, Regent University School of Law
Books Written
We Hold These Truths
Professional Memberships
Virginia and Pennsylvania state bars
Phoenix, Arizona
Languages Spoken
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Entertainment, Faith