How will it affect high schools in Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties where people 16 years old and up are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations starting today?
Here is what school district leaders in those counties had to say.
This will have “a positive impact on schools and our community,” said Leslie Lenhart, director of communications and media relations for Tucson Unified School District, the largest school district in Pima County.
“Many families are concerned with their child getting COVID and spreading the disease to the family members who are not yet vaccinated,” Lenhart said. “If everyone 16 and older can get the vaccine, then the community spread will be reduced quickly as people get vaccinated.”
Many Tucson Unified students and teachers had not been on campus for more than a year before most students returned to in-person learning on campus on Monday of this week, the same day Gov. Doug Ducey announced that Arizonans 16 years and up would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Pima, Maricopa, and Yuma counties.
Sneak peek on how our classrooms and play yards looked like today, on the first day of being back in school! #PrOUD2btusd pic.twitter.com/xDn31bIpVR
— Tucson Unified (@tucsonunified) March 23, 2021
Tucson Unified had planned to begin hybrid learning – with alternating days where students would be on campus learning with teachers in the classroom and others where students would do distance learning – before Gov. Doug Ducey announced his Executive Order on March 3 requiring schools to provide in-person instruction for students the Monday following spring break.
If youth and their families are vaccinated in significant numbers, it may help open up more extracurricular opportunities for students including career and technical education internships and help schools recruit and retain teachers and staff.
“As the vaccine is broadly distributed, this will help reduce the concerns about coming back to school, thus help improve recruiting efforts, extra-curricular activities for high school students, as well as expand on/off-campus learning opportunities for our students,” Lenhart said.
The families of students in Tucson Unified, like the other districts mentioned in this story, have the option to choose whether their children will attend classes in-person or online.
In addition, Tucson Unified has helped ensure their staff has had the opportunity to get vaccinated, Lenhart said.
“We have worked with Pima County Health Department to get a large percentage of our staff appointments, and we are continuing our vaccine efforts by working with a few community businesses to create a few more staff vaccine clinics in the near future,” Lenhart said.
Cheerleaders and the school mascot welcome students back to campus. Photo Courtesy Tucson Unified School District
Students in Dysart Unified School District, which serves students northwest Maricopa County, have had the option to attend in-person classes at schools since Sept. 21, 2020 or continue learning online.
“Dysart has had and will continue to have extensive protocols in place for all activities at this time to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff,” said Renee Ryon, director of communications and public relations for Dysart Unified School District. “We have seen extraordinary efforts from our staff, families and community in partnering with us to take proper precautions and follow all procedures.”
“The vaccination expansion could further strengthen the health of our high school campuses, as more individuals will have the opportunity to be vaccinated,” Ryon said.
“We are thankful that our school staff have already had the opportunity to receive the vaccine either through the Dysart clinics that served nearly 800 individuals, or at one of the many other sites around the state,” Ryon said.
In Yuma County, students at Yuma Union High School District had the option to return to campus for in-person classes starting March 1 or continue online learning.
“Yuma Union High School District had the good fortune to be a part of getting school staff vaccinated earlier in 2021,” said Eric Patten, chief communications officer for Yuma Union High School District. “Between staff members electing to get the vaccine prior to that and the large-scale vaccination performed for our district by the Yuma County Health Department, we have upwards of 60% of our staff vaccinated.”
“That helped create an improved sense of safety/security for our staff upon returning to in-person instruction. However, a feeling of uncertainty still existed, especially among our families,” Patten said.
“Children 16 and up becoming eligible for the vaccine, would further boost that sense of safety and security and potentially help us continue to look at more ways to return to normalcy,” Patten said.
Many of the health and safety elements of Yuma Union’s mitigation plan have helped re-assure Yuma students, families and staff, Patten said.
“We have seen a 9-10% improvement in retention of teachers over the past two years, which is greatly affected by a 33% salary increase for teachers between 2017-18 and the start of the 2021-22 school year,” Patten said.
Cholla High School Principal Frank Armenta helps a student find a class on the first day back to the 2020-2021 school year. Photo courtesy Tucson Unified School District
“Knowing that children in their classrooms may be vaccinated, though, could also help with recruiting new teachers, particularly those who may have reservations about their safety in the classroom as relates to COVID-19,” Patten said.
“There is no doubt that a significant number of family members or students electing to get vaccinated would play a role in the decision to open up additional extracurricular activities and opportunities,” Patten said.
“Between the tireless efforts of our maintenance and custodial staff to the work of our teachers and support staff to the overall optimism of our students across our district, Yuma Union High School District has found a way through the pandemic to continue our mission of preparing EVERY student for college, career and community after high school,” Patten said.