Schools in Queen Creek are requiring teachers to physically come to campus to run online classes. But teachers argue that the policy unnecessarily exposes them to COVID-19 when they could easily teach virtual classes from home.
"We really aren’t allowed to do anything remote," Jacob Frantz, said a chemistry teacher and president of the Queen Creek Education Association. "We’ve even had like high-risk people, we’ve been trying to get ADA accommodations for them and it’s just been a flat 'no'."
"We’ve been raising concerns about it for nearly two months now," he added.
Brad Charles a 58-year-old science teacher with the Queen Creek Unified School District, is a type-two diabetic and is at high risk of experiencing severe complications from COVID-19. He told New Times that his requests to teach remotely have been turned down by school administrators — even when he filed for a disability accommodation.
And even though in-person classes haven't resumed at his school, there's still staff on-site who could potentially be carrying COVID-19. Mask-wearing is not universal, he said.
"It’s an unnecessary risk to come and sit in my classroom and have multiple people come into my class, many of whom are not wearing masks," Charles said. "I have no control over basically who is in the halls. There’s a lot of people that don’t wear masks."
Now, he's moving to resign from his position, due in part to the school district's unwavering stance on teaching online classes from classrooms.
"I am going to put in my resignation soon because I don’t feel confident that our district is going to do the things necessary to keep not only myself but my students safe," Charles said.
One teacher, who declined to be identified due to fear of retaliation, said that his wife has an autoimmune disease and that his multiple requests to work remotely were also denied. He's resorted to using sick days to stay home and limit the chance of him bringing COVID-19 into his household.
"It's frustrating because you know that there are lots of other districts that allow teachers to work from home or make it optional to come in," the teacher said. "We should be able to work from home while teaching online classes."
When asked for comment, Stephanie Ingersoll, public relations and marketing director for the Queen Creek Unified School District, wrote in an email that teachers returned to campus on July 17 and have been "teaching from their classrooms since August 3." She cited "in-person troubleshooting for technology and software-applications" and a "professional atmosphere for teaching and learning" as some of the benefits of having teachers run online classes from their classrooms.
Ingersoll did not respond to New Times questions regarding whether the requirement that teachers work from their classrooms aligns with messaging from public health experts that working from home should be encouraged.
Queen Creek teachers say that working from home doesn't impact their ability to effectively teach online classes. And with the pandemic still raging and Arizona's public schools grappling with how to safely resume classes, teacher advocates argue that school administrators should be allowing flexibility to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
"For anyone to report to work, the district needs to able to justify that that work is critical and it can only be done at a school building," said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association. "If there are jobs that can be conducted off campus and that’s safer for students and the rest of their colleagues, then we should be looking for that flexibility."