Teachers in cities across the state are donning red shirts and holding “motor marches” – driving around in cars painted with slogans like “Remote learning won’t kill us but COVID can!”
In May, the state was seeing a seven-day average of about 500 new cases a day. Arizona has seen spikes of around 4,000 new cases at various times over the past few weeks with little sign of decline.
A slogan is seen on a car in "a motor march” protest of teachers who took it to their vehicles to demand a delay in in-person learning in the fall, due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., July 15, 2020. Picture taken July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kelley Fisher NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES – RC2NVH9P22JL
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is aiming to reopen schools statewide starting Aug. 17, but educators have opposed the move. Instead, teachers would like to see the start of school pushed back to October at the earliest and increased funding for personal protective equipment.
TAMPA, FL – JULY 16: Middle school teacher Scott Hottenstein stand in protest in front of the Hillsborough County Schools District Office on July 16, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. Teachers and administrators from Hillsborough County Schools rallied against the reopening of schools due to health and safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)
“This is a core piece of what our educators come together for, which is to demand that schools are properly funded,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association. “Until we can see that, we are not ready to come back to schools.”
The protest marks the second within two years that teachers have staged in Arizona, with a 2018 protest focusing on low pay and budget cuts. The red shirts have become a symbol of teacher protests across the nation, a Racked articles explains, with protesters in other states using the color “to show solidarity."
Teachers in North Carolina, Florida and elsewhere are joining the growing "Red for Ed" protests. They have utilized social media and online petitions to share their concerns and lobby statehouses.
“I think that the schools are not prepared to open,” Erin Rhodes told The Intelligencer, noting that she has a 72-year-old mother and a 1-year-old grandson to protect. “Teachers teach because that’s what they want to do, that’s what they’re meant to do.”
TAMPA, FL – JULY 16: Middle school teacher Brittany Myers, (C) stands in protest in front of the Hillsborough County Schools District Office on July 16, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. Teachers and administrators from Hillsborough County Schools rallied against the reopening of schools due to health and safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)
“I don’t know any teacher who doesn’t want to go back. But this is about going back and sacrificing your health, or sacrificing a co-worker or your family and kids.”
Ducey on Thursday said he would not be swayed by politics, adding he would be comfortable sending his children back to school, as did the state’s health chief, Cara Christ. The state is not dictating how schools reopen, with some schools using remote learning or a mix of online and in-person instruction, Reuters reported.
But for many parents and teachers, the directives are placing the safety of the state's 1.1 million public school students and 20,000 teachers at risk.
“We don’t want any children to get this [virus] from us, because as a teacher, I don’t want to go to any of their funerals,” Arizona third-grade teacher Stacy Brosius, 47, told Reuters. She has said she is not prepared to send her three children back to school.
Some parents are demanding that the state make in-person learning optional, but others want to send their children back to the classroom as soon as possible.
When Deer Valley Unified School District tried to delay their opening to Oct. 14, parents planned a protest – set for July 30 – to demand the schools reopen earlier.
“All we want is our choices back,” said protest organizer Christina DeRouchey, the mother of four school-age children.