As Arizona COVID-19 cases rise, virtual learning has started to become the new normal. However, some parents have begun to voice their concerns on if virtual learning is in the best interest of the children who attend schools in Flagstaff United School District (FUSD). 

A private Facebook group aptly named “Flagstaff In Person Education is Essential,” currently has over 570 members, which includes parents and students who have voiced their thoughts about returning to school. 

One parent from the group, Brielle Kennington, expressed her concerns regarding her childrens’ mental health, in large part because of virtual learning. 

“During virtual learning I started to see an emotional decline,” Kennington said. “My children dreaded school. They cried every day ... When I pulled them out of FUSD and enrolled them in a Prenda microschool, it felt like I got my children back.” 

A Prenda microschool is a charter school hosted by facilitators out of their home. 

Coconino High School senior Emma Thom discussed how she has been feeling about online learning and the effects that it has had not only on her mental health, but also her last year in high school. 

“Having that instruction in person, being able to call a teacher over and talk to them one on one without having to request a breakout room, having classmates to talk to and joke around with and become friends with are all among the things I miss most,” Thom said.  “You can’t become friends with a black, muted screen.”

According to the Arizona Daily Sun, many parents with children attending schools in FUSD are now seeking legal action against the district in order to get students back to in-person learning as soon as possible.

Zachery Fountain, FUSD director of communications and public relations, said in a statement the district has been following health benchmarks to measure the feasibility of returning to in-person learning.

“The Flagstaff Unified School “The Flagstaff Unified School District has received a copy of the letter from Alford Law and will continue to make decisions regarding a return to in-person learning based on health metrics to ensure the safety of students, families, team members and the community,” Fountain said in a message to FUSD families. “FUSD has adopted health benchmarks for the return to school and unfortunately, the numbers in our community continue to rise far beyond these thresholds.”

Although current COVID-19 case metrics have made in-person learning impossible for the students of FUSD, Fountain said it would not have been possible for the district to navigate through the uncertainty of the pandemic without the help of the community. 

“FUSD is fortunate that we have been able to navigate remote learning because of the support of the Flagstaff community,” Fountain said. “Each and every student receives an iPad as part of our community-supported bond and override, and over 800 hot spots have been issued to support remote learning, helping provide equitable access to educational resources. We could not have supported remote learning without this generous community support.”

There may be no definitive answer to when FUSD students can be expected to return to in-person learning. What is known, though, is the district is planning a safe reopening for when that is possible.