Arizona School District Cancels All Classes After Teachers Protest With 'Sick Out'

by Christina Marfice
Arizona School District Cancels All Classes After Teachers Protest With 'Sick Out'
ABC15 Arizona/Youtube

Classes are not being held as scheduled today in Arizona’s J.O. Combs Unified School District, after teachers protested in-person reopenings

Across the U.S., more and more schools are reopening on schedule for fall classes. And as schools open, we’re seeing more and more (and more and more) stories of students and staff going into quarantine (sometimes hundreds of them from a single school) after being exposed in a coronavirus outbreak. Classes were supposed to begin today in the J.O. Combs Unified School District in the Phoenix suburbs. But planned reopenings there have now been canceled after teachers protested with a “sick out,” saying it’s not safe for them to return to classrooms with students.

“We have received an overwhelming response from staff indicating that they do not feel safe returning to classrooms with students,” Gregory Wyman, the district’s superintendent, said in a letter that was sent to parents on Friday. “In response, we have received a high volume of staff absences for Monday citing health and safety concerns.”

Arizona has recommended benchmarks for districts to reopen safely. But last week, despite J.O Combs not meeting those benchmarks, the district’s board voted to resume in-person classes. In protest, 109 teachers and staff members called in sick for the first day of school, which would have been today.

“Due to these insufficient staffing levels, schools will not be able to reopen on Monday as planned,” Wyman’s letter said, adding that at this point, there’s no saying when classes might start. “Please know that we are acutely aware of how polarizing this issue is, and how challenging these ongoing developments are for our entire community,” he said.

The sick-out in the J.O Combs district comes after a number of teachers in the neighboring Queens School District made headlines for resigning from their jobs after a vote to begin in-person classes there. Earlier this year, Target employees across the nation used a sick out to protest their own unsafe working conditions.

And amid confusion about school reopening requirements and guidelines, New York teachers have threatened their own sick out.

Arizona Educators United has sprung up as a grassroots group helping educators protest school reopenings in the state, which is still a major coronavirus hotspot.

“We are just starting to see how this affects children, how contagious they are, and that they can get it,” said Sharon Tuttle, one of the group’s organizers, adding that the teachers who resigned could face backlash like fines or petitions to have their teaching licenses revoked.

“This is a horrible situation for everybody,” Tuttle said. “Everybody is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t mean you make bad decisions.”