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‘It feels like I forgot how to walk, mom’: J.O. Combs Unified School District moves 5th and 6th graders at Ellsworth Elementary back online

Fifth and sixth-grade classes will go online through August 13 amid more than 50 active cases a week since the start of school.

PHOENIX — COVID-19 is spreading throughout classrooms as districts wrestle with masking. Arizona is one of several states with a law banning districts from mandating masks. 

Casey Langen has four students in the J.O. Combs Unified School District. One is at Combs High School and three at Ellsworth Elementary. She and her husband are fully vaccinated along with their oldest son. 

But her three at Ellsworth all tested positive this week. 

“Monday, I was running errands and my son called me frantically because he said that the girl he was sitting next to and ate lunch next to tested positive for coronavirus,” said Langen. 

Langen said she received a letter from the district Monday night notifying her that her student needed to quarantine before returning to school on August 10 if they tested negative and experienced no symptoms. They were advised to quarantine until August 13 if they chose not to test and even without symptoms. 

The problem is the letter did not specify which of Langen’s children needed to quarantine. 

“It did not say which child, which class. I had no idea. If Brady didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t even know which kid to quarantine,” said Langen. 

On Tuesday, she received another letter, notifying her that her fourth-grader was exposed to COVID-19. 

Ellsworth had 13 active cases on Tuesday morning. As of Friday night, the district is listing 53 active cases. Three of those are Langen’s children.

“Colby [4th grade] woke up crying in the middle of the night because he hurt so bad. He said 'It feels like I forgot how to walk, mom,'” said Langen. 

The district is now temporarily moving all 5th and 6th grade classes at Ellsworth back to online learning until August 13. The letter sent to parents on Friday said in part: 

"Due to the details surrounding the current active cases at Ellsworth Elementary, all fifth and sixth grade classes at that school will temporarily move to remote learning through Friday, August 13, 2021. In-person learning for those classes will resume on Monday, August 16, 2021. During this time, students will learn remotely from home via Google Classroom, and should be monitored for any signs of potential illness. In order to avoid additional potential exposure upon return, families are directed to proactively quarantine their children during this time."

The school remains open and students in grades Pre-K through fourth at Ellsworth Elementary are still able to participate in in-person learning.  

The letter also mentioned the district's inability to mandate masks. 

"Although we cannot mandate mask-wearing, students and staff are also strongly encouraged to use face coverings at school to help prevent transmission." 

Langen said she hopes the district and parents will use common sense as the Delta variant continues to spread. 

“I’m glad that I kept them home that day, so they didn’t go expose 30 more kids," said Langen. "Sometimes you have to have enough common sense as a school to keep your community safe and say we need to go above and beyond these guidelines."

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