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More classes canceled at J.O. Combs schools after ‘overwhelming’ response against in-person learning

Class cancellations across the J.O. Combs Unified School District have been extended at least through Wednesday.

QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — You can watch a live stream of Wednesday's governing board meeting below.

Class cancellations across the J.O. Combs Unified School District have been extended at least through Wednesday, the school district said Monday.

The announcement comes after an “overwhelming response” from staff against in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic led to schools staying closed on Monday.

The district said more than 100 employees, including teachers, called out sick Monday, some over COVID-19 concerns.

"Our intention was never to cancel class," says Dave Nelson. "Our intention was never to stop the virtual learning part."

Nelson is a teacher at Combs High School and also the president of the teachers' union.  He says he called out both Monday and Tuesday and is worried about COVID-19 in the classroom.

"I’ve got a shark cage being built behind me but you’re asking me to jump into the water with the sharks before the cage is put back together? That doesn’t work."

J.O. Combs Unified leaders hold a public meeting after teacher pushback against reopening classrooms delayed the new school year.

He also believes there hasn't been enough training and thinks they should wait to return to the classroom until the district meets all the metrics put out by the state.

"Who are you willing to risk? I’m not willing to risk my wife. I’m not willing to risk my colleagues."

RELATED: Classes canceled for J.O. Combs schools on Monday due to 'insufficient staffing'

On Monday morning, a few dozen students and parents marched to the district office to demand answers.

"We were excited to start today," says mom Kara Dawson. "We had our backpacks out. We got our school supplies."

Dawson says she has five kids in the district and in-person learning just isn't working for her family.

"As a mom, it’s kind of like a circus," she says of the virtual learning they did last school year.  "Kids that are in elementary school - they don’t know how to type, they don’t know how to use all of the different things."

The march was organized by Tristan King, who is supposed to be starting his senior year at Combs High School.

"Online school isn’t working for a lot of us," King says. "We need that in-person connection to be with the teachers."

King says he also supports those who want to stay home.  He wishes there would be an option that works for people who want to do both.

"I know everyone wants simplistic solutions to complex problems," Dr. Gregory Wyman, district Superintendent, said to the protesters Monday morning.

"This is a difficult solution all the way around," he said. "It’s easy to take sides. But the reality of the situation is the lack of coherent and comprehensive plan at the state and federal level."

Some of the parents asking for schools re-open volunteered to be substitute teachers to help fill the absences to cover classes.  Dr. Wyman says he'll take all the subs he can get, so long as they have proper credentials, like a Fingerprint Clearance card and a bachelor's degree.

“Our Superintendent continues to engage in ongoing conversations with the Combs Education Association as well as our families to address concerns regarding the return to school,” the district said in the message for parents Monday.

“We’re sensitive to the feedback of our staff, as well as our community, and are working nonstop to find solutions to the polarizing and challenging issues currently facing school districts throughout the state and country.”

AZDHS released guidelines for safely reopening classrooms earlier this month, but state health director Cara Christ said no county met the recommendations to open campus doors at the time.

Even still, Gov. Doug Ducey is giving local school districts the flexibility to reopen when district leaders feel appropriate, even against state recommendations.

The J.O. Combs school board voted last week to open classrooms, but the decision was met with a large portion of teachers and faculty refusing to return. 

A school board meeting will be held Wednesday night to discuss the plan for the remainder of the week.