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Some Arizona school districts change learning models for after winter break as health experts grow concerned about increasing COVID-19 cases

Many believe with holiday gatherings COVID-19 cases in Arizona could continue to grow over the coming weeks, leaving concerns over in-person learning.

After a semester like no other schools are heading into winter break, just as health experts are concerned over how COVID-19 cases could continue to grow in the coming weeks.

For educators, teaching in the pandemic hasn’t been easy.

“As you’re going through a typical lesson, you’re thinking about, ‘who’s going to hand out the papers? How can I mitigate any type of risk? How can I successfully carry out a lab?’,” Katie Nash, a biology teacher at Chandler High School and president of the Chandler Education Association said.

Nash said her concerns continue as she looks to the future.

“It’s just adding to our fear and anxiety and also adding to our workload in the process,” Nash said.

According to the Maricopa County Public Health schools dashboard, most districts in the county are under a "recommended learning scenario" of "virtual with onsite support." 

Currently, seven out of the 10 largest school districts in Arizona are currently educating students in what the Arizona Department of Education has termed a “hybrid” model. 

As for what happens when winter break is over, Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association said teachers are concerned.

“They’re very concerned because they’re starting to see districts that are ignoring the data,” Thomas said. “We have to know what January looks like and if the numbers keep trending the way that they’re trending, I don’t know how any school can be open to in-person instruction.”

Some schools are changing their plans for educating students after winter break.

Mesa Public Schools, the largest district in the state, will be virtual learning for at least two weeks after winter break. Then will look at the data from those two weeks to determine what the next learning model will be. 

Deer Valley Unified School District will also be educating students virtually on a short term basis.

Scottsdale Unified School District is phasing their students back to the classroom, as outlined in the latest message home to parents. 

Other districts, like Chandler Unified School District, Peoria Unified School District, Dysart Unified School District, and Gilbert Public Schools will be going back in person in some form. 

Several of those districts point to studies and health experts that say keeping students in school is better as long as there are strong mitigation measures in place. 

State Health Director Dr. Cara Christ said vaccines should be available to teachers come mid-January or early February.

"We would encourage teachers to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Christ said.

She added that returning to some kind of normalcy won’t come until at least the summer or early fall.

“But it is really hard to predict. It’s going to depend on the uptake in our communities and how the supply chain continues,” Christ said.

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