WILLCOX — Willcox Unified School District recently experienced unrelated COVID-19 outbreaks, as discovered by county health officials. At a Nov. 5 board meeting, it was decided to keep the school open for in-person instruction.
However within a few days there was an increase in cases at Willcox Middle School. Because of that, it was decided to close the middle school until Nov. 30 while keeping the other schools open.
A letter to parents from Superintendent Kevin Davis dated Monday, Nov. 9, said, “Due to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases at Willcox Middle School and the subsequent increase of close contacts due to those positive cases, we have made the difficult decision to close the school to in-person instruction beginning when school is out this afternoon. School will resume in-person instruction on Nov. 30, 2020.”
At the Nov. 5 meeting, parents and administrators showed support for keeping schools open. During that meeting, at the call to audience portion, parents of students from the high school and middle school expressed their thoughts on how their students have been negatively affected by each school having to shut down to quarantine students after the recent outbreaks.
They also expressed strong arguments for why the schools should remain open, despite medically backed recommendations from county health officials as to why they shouldn’t.
“I’m a parent of a student here at Willcox High School and I’ve currently been in quarantine because there was an instance of COVID-19. I’m feeling the effect of being home. Struggling through online schooling. The frustration that we have as parents to bear,” Alicia Owen said.
“To be so forward, we would like a plan to actually get the education from the teachers. Instead of doing everything. Trying to pick up packets from the office. It’s way frustrating.”
Owen went on to mention why closing the school would be damaging to her child’s and others’ social interaction.
“I think if the school were to close, we’re going to have a lot of problems with that factor. Those kids need that social interaction. They need to be with their peers. They need to be with their teachers,” Owen added.
“In order to get that quality education, I don’t know the total. What the number of cases there are. I know that it affects a large group of people when there is a case, but I don’t feel that that’s worthy of closing the school down.”
Owen’s comments were echoed by Chris Stalder, dean and athletic director of Willcox High School, whose daughter has been affected “academically” by having had to quarantine after the recent COVID-19 outbreaks in the high school.
“My daughter had to quarantine. It was absolutely detrimental to be honest with you. She fell behind on a class. It was very difficult for her being away. Socially, emotionally and academically,” Stalder said.
Stalder shed some light on how his students have responded to the school’s request that they quarantine in the aftermath of the two recent outbreaks.
“Just because we quarantined, doesn’t mean that students stayed home. They’re going out in public. I see them in the grocery store. I see them working,” Stalder added.
“I see them going to parties on the weekend. Just because the school unfortunately has to close down or do something to quarantine, does not mean that the students are actually following that order.”
Stalder closed his comments by detailing what the high school has been doing in response to the pandemic, as well as how students have been affected.
“Safest place for these kids to be is at school. We’ve cleaned the buildings a lot. We’re very safe in the way we handle the students and expectations by CDC. If we take them out of that situation and we put them back at home where almost all the cases are coming from, then we’re just putting our students at great risk,” Stalder added. “Socially, emotionally, as well as unfortunately, medically and academically.”
The board wrapped up the call of the audience portion of the meeting by stating it has a decision to make on whether or not to listen to the “county bureaucrats” or do what it feels is best for their smaller community.
The final decision was to keep the schools open.
Davis commented on the weight of this decision.
“We’re running risk of legal issues. Do we lose insurance coverage for the rest of kids for anything else that might happen?” Davis said.
Northern Cochise Community Hospital releases a statement on COVID-19 cases in the area
“Last week, Monday (October 25-Nov 1), NCCH did 165 COVID tests (including people from in our district and outside our district who came to NCCH to be tested). The positivity rate for that week was 21.8 percent.
There were 109 tests (included in the above number) with zip codes from inside our hospital district and 23 were positive from those 109 people tested. That is a 21.1 percent positivity rate,” said Ainslee Bull, community relations director for Northern Cochise Community Hospital.
City Council unanimously decides to remove mask mandate
During its weekly meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5, Willcox City Council voted unanimously, without any further discussion, to remove the mandate requiring masks to be worn inside city buildings.
Afterward the mayor explained to Herald/Review Media why this decision was made.
“We found that there wasn’t anybody coming. This is the first time that we’ve ever had anyone at a meeting. Other businesses can do what they want,” Mayor Mike Laws said.
Herald/Review reporter Steve Reno contributed to this article.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated Chris Stalder's comments referred to teachers, not students. The Herald/Review apologizes for the error.