A school district in Arizona canceled its plans to reopen schools Monday after several dozen teachers staged a "sick out" in protest.
"We have received an overwhelming response from staff indicating that they do not feel safe returning to classrooms with students," Gregory Wyman, the superintendent of the J.O. Combs Unified School District, said in a letter to families posted online Friday. "In response, we have received a high volume of staff absences for Monday citing health and safety concerns."
All classes, including virtual learning, will be canceled, though breakfasts and lunches will be available for pickup, he said.
The school district said in a statement Monday that classes would also be canceled Tuesday and Wednesday while it works "to find solutions to the polarizing and challenging issues currently facing school districts throughout the state and country."
"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 statement said.
A Governing Board meeting is planned for Wednesday evening to discuss options for a return to school.
"We are fully aware that a timely resolution to this matter is critical, and are committed to providing updates to our families as soon as they are available," the statement said.
The J.O. Combs school district in San Tan Valley outside Phoenix includes seven schools, according to its website. There are 4,400 students in the district.
Kayla Fulmer, a spokeswoman for the school district, said several dozen of the 109 people who called out sick are teachers.
The superintendent said Friday that the Governing Board had voted 3-2 last week to resume in-person instruction Monday against the advice of public health officials. The Arizona Department of Health Services has set benchmarks for the reopening of in-person instruction, but school districts are not required to follow them.
In an interview Monday, Wyman said 55 percent of the community had voted last week to resume in-person classes, down from 65 percent in July. The teachers who staged what he described as a "sick out," want the school district to meet all of the recommended benchmarks before in-person instruction resumes.
Wyman said it is problematic that there is no national or local plan for reopening schools like there have been for restaurants and gyms.
"For some reason, public education doesn't get a mandate," he said. "We will ultimately get to a solution but we are still working on it."
Some schools in other parts of the country have struggled to safely open.
A Georgia school district said Sunday that it will close a third high school through the end of the month amid a COVID-19 outbreak. The Cherokee County School District decided to close Creekview High School after 25 students tested positive for the coronavirus and 500 of its 1,800 in-person students were under "precautionary quarantine," it said in a statement.