School report card: This week, a 'sick-out' shut down school in Arizona, and Iowa teachers sued their state

·6 min read
"Sick out" protests closed an Arizona school and teachers in Iowa sued the governor. (Photo: Getty Images)
"Sick-out" protests closed an Arizona school, while teachers in Iowa sued the governor. (Photo: Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Teachers protested back-to-school plans with car horns and ‘sick-outs’

On Wednesday, 500 educators and supporters in Massachusetts organized car caravans outside the Boston State House, blaring horns to demand safer facilities, free access to rapid testing and remote instruction, representatives of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts tell Yahoo Life. Over in Minnesota, teachers parked outside the Osseo Area Schools district in Maple Grove, honking car horns to oppose the district’s hybrid model. “While there are varying opinions about the ‘right’ way to start, I am confident that our employees are sharing their perspectives out of their love for the students they serve,” Osseo Area Schools superintendent Cory McIntyre tells Yahoo Life.

On August 19, 2020, Massachusetts teachers protested unsafe school conditions in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston. (Photo: Massachusetts Teachers Association)
Teachers protested unsafe school conditions in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston on Aug. 19. (Photo: Massachusetts Teachers Association)

In Arizona, a teacher “sick-out” to protest in-person classes (as part of a hybrid model) resulted in “a high volume of staff absences” and a bit of change — not only did the J.O. Combs Unified School District cancel the first day of school on Aug. 24, it launched a virtual learning model to begin on Aug. 20, superintendent Gregory A. Wyman told families in a letter. The district will evaluate local health data to determine whether its doors can open on Aug. 31.

Colleges swapped in-person instructions for virtual lessons

Only one week into its school year, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill switched to remote instruction after 954 students tested positive for the coronavirus, sending 177 people into isolation and 349 into quarantine, according to an announcement from chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

The news shook up dorm life, as students were told to clear out of residence halls. “We do expect the majority of our current undergraduate residential students will change their living arrangement and move off-campus, whether that be to somewhere in the area or to in-state or out-of-state homes,” a university spokesperson tells Yahoo Life. “Residents who have hardships, such as lack of access to reliable internet access, [or who are] international students or student-athletes, will have the option to remain.” Since Monday, 2,542 students have requested housing contract cancellations, and 2,461 scheduled appointments to move out.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill swapped in-person learning for virtual classes after a COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill swapped in-person learning for virtual classes after a coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., which began its school year on Aug. 10, also suspended in-person courses until Sept. 2, blaming an uptick in positive cases on students having off-campus parties without masks or physical distancing. Currently, 147 people — all students with the exception of a staff member — have tested positive, notes the school announcement.

And two schools took preemptive action to stop the spread of the virus: Michigan State University is going virtual for its Sept. 2 opening, president Samuel Stanley Jr. wrote on the school website. And Ithaca College in New York made the “agonizing decision” to go remote during the fall semester.

Teachers were officially declared essential workers

On Friday, the White House officially categorized teachers as “critical infrastructure workers,” positioning them alongside health care workers and law enforcement.

Although the Department of Homeland Security document notes that the classification is not a federal directive, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, shot back, telling the Associated Press, “If the president really saw us as essential, he’d act like it. Teachers are and always have been essential workers — but not essential enough, it seems, for the Trump administration to commit the resources necessary to keep them safe in the classroom.”

A Kentucky superintendent tested positive for COVID-19

On Wednesday, Gary Fields, the superintendent of the Bowling Green Independent School District in Kentucky, shared in a tweet that he tested positive for COVID-19. “Although it is not my practice or general obligation to share my personal health status with our school community, these are different times and I want you to be aware of my medical situation,” he wrote. Fields said he would isolate from his family through Aug. 23, one day before the district opens for in-person classes.

Fields is not the only superintendent to test positive: On Aug. 12, one day before school started, Darron Arlt of Plainview (Ky.) Public Schools tested positive, according to the Associated Press. As a result, the school delayed its first day until Aug. 24.

Georgia teachers went viral for their back-to-school rap parody

In Georgia, where coronavirus infections have climbed to nearly 244,000, two teachers at Albany’s Monroe Comprehensive High School inspired their virtual students with choreographed rap routines. Instagram videos posted this week by teachers and cheer coaches Callie Evans and Audri Williams show them performing to Jack Harlow’s "What’s Poppin” while rapping about pandemic safety.

“A lot of our students may have lost their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to the virus,” Evans told Yahoo Life. “Because of this, I know some of our students were discouraged about starting school. My video was made to be a breath of fresh air to inspire students to want to learn. I wanted to show that through adversity, you can still come out on top and be the best no matter the circumstance.”

Iowa teacher unions are suing Governor Kim Reynolds for the power to determine how to open school amid the pandemic. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Iowa teachers' unions are suing GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds for the power to determine how to open schools during the pandemic. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Iowa teachers sued their governor for control over school plans

Two teachers’ unions — the Iowa State Education Association and the Iowa City Education Association — filed a lawsuit against Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday for control over how schools operate in the fall. Reynolds issued a June proclamation directing schools to hold 50 percent of classes in person, but the lawsuit claims her orders overstep boundaries. “We are asking the court to determine that the ultimate authority to plan the return to school, including the extent of any online component, rests solely with the school board of each school district in Iowa, and not with Governor Reynolds,” Jay Hammond, general counsel for the ISEA, said in a tweet. A representative for Reynolds did not reply to Yahoo Life’s requests for comment.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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