Mesa teacher leads motorized ‘march’ for schools The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa teacher leads motorized ‘march’ for schools

Mesa teacher leads motorized ‘march’ for schools

By Zach Alvira
Tribune Staff Writer

A group of Arizona educators took to the streets of Mesa Wednesday to send a message to the community and state asking that campuses be reopened only when it’s safe.

Judy Robbins, a 34-year special education teacher for Mesa Public Schools, helped organize the “Motor March.”

It was one of numerous such marches throughout the state organized by Arizona Educators United as more teachers and other school personnel began raising their voices amid the battle the intensifying debate over reopening campuses.

Robbins and fellow organizer Cathy Zinkhon, a Pre-K special education teacher and parent, attracted an estimated 30 vehicles for their “march,” which winded through downtown and west Mesa for about 90 minutes with the vehicles written messages, mostly about delaying campus reopenings until COVID-19 isn’t a threat to students and staff.

“A large percentage of (educators) came up with the same conclusion that we had to make our voices heard that we weren’t pleased with the plan or lack thereof for school,” Robbins said. “We communicated and quickly set up these motor marches to have our voices be heard and let them know we aren’t on board with going back to physical schools yet.”

Robbins has spent the last nine years in Mesa Public Schools as a special education teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing, traveling to as many as 28 schools around the district and working with as many as 80 students from all grade levels every year.

Before MPS, she worked for Phoenix School for the Deaf and Blind for 20 years.

She said she recognizes the desire from both students and parents, especially working ones those with younger kids, to have schools reopen and avoid remote learning.

However, Robbins questions whether an in-person classroom setting is worth the risk to the health of students, their families and the staff at schools.

Noting new reports in Florida say that up to a third of all children in that state have tested positive for the coronavirus, Robbins believes there could be a significant outbreak even after just one day in classrooms.

With as long as a two-week incubation period for symptoms to set in, Robbins fears the schools would have to once again be shut down due to a widespread outbreak and would cause disruptions in learning.

“We know it’s a recipe for disaster,” Robbins said. “We see the governor open tattoo parlors and restaurants and now has to renege some of that. It’s a lot more challenging for us to do that.”

Many districts, including Scottsdale and Phoenix Union, have already said students would not be able to return to class until after Labor Day on Sept. 7. Though some districts are contemplating a return after the first quarter in October.

“We are between a rock and a hard place,” Robbins said. “Being physically in schools is not worth dying for and not worth potentially having to go to the hospital for several weeks. It could be a disaster.”

Robbins hopes there will be several measures taken into consideration in order to allow students back into schools.

She wants an extensive screening process on a daily basis for all students and staff. She said that process likely would need to start before students get on a bus in the morning.

She also hopes schools do not open until Arizona’s transmission rate is well-below a level indicating it is transmissible and over a million tests administered. At that point, she said, officials would have a clearer picture of the virus’ imprint in the state.

Robbins conceded the decision to open schools is not an easy one.

“I can speak for all teachers when I say we recognize it may be hard for a child to learn at home,” Robbins said. “All of us will try our hardest to make it an adequate situation. But right now, it’s just not safe for anyone to be in schools.”

Gov. Doug Ducey last Thursday said he will have more details on his “aspirational” plan to allow districts to reopen campuses Aug. 17. He said he is conferring with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

Hoffman last week expressed skepticism about the possibility of reopening campuses by the middle of next month.

“At this time, I am not optimistic that Arizona will be ready to open for in-person instruction on Aug. 17,” Hoffman said. “I would predict that we will have announcements regarding that in the near future, but that has not yet been decided.”

Robbins said online instruction is less than ideal – especially teachers who also are parents to young children and to special education students like the ones she helps.

Parents who are teachers must toggle between serving their students and doing their job on the one hand and making sure their own children are staying on tract with their distance learning.

And teachers of special education students – who by law have an individualized learning plan tailored to their needs – find online learning less effective than in-person interaction.

“It’s not the perfect world,” Robbins said. “Obviously, we would prefer to go into the classroom first and foremost. But of course, the epidemic is the thing that we need to focus on and we need to control first and foremost.” 

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