Nearly a year after Arizona schools shut down, Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) is preparing for the return of in-person learning in large part because of Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order issued March 3, requiring all schools to return to a traditional learning format.

FUSD announced students and staff returned to the classroom March 22. 

FUSD chief health administrator McKenzie Bevirt spoke on the return to in-person learning in a recorded interview-style video that can be found on the FUSD website. Bevirt discussed the health and safety plans for the students’ and teachers’ return. 

Bevirt explained that a lot of research has been done to gather information of what has and has not worked for schools that have already opened back up, as well as following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. 

 Safety precautions outside of school are just as important as those inside of school. Bevirt discussed what students and parents should consider before going to school each day. 

“So [it is] really important to know that COVID can have very different symptoms in different individuals,” Bevirt said. “So if your student has any symptoms, that could include mild symptoms, runny nose, maybe just feeling a little fatigued, headache. If your student has any symptoms whatsoever and seems to not be themselves not feeling great, we ask that you keep your student home.”

There are mixed feelings among students and staff regarding the return to in-person learning. With the pandemic still not over, some are hesitant about the idea of returning to school. 

Flagstaff High School teacher Susan Merkli said she does not agree with the decision to return to in-person learning, due to transmission rates still not being safe.

“My classroom has no windows, and it is impossible to socially distance,” Merkli said. “Many teachers and older students have not yet been able to be vaccinated and will be at risk. I spent a significant amount of time setting up my classroom with measuring tape, setting up hand sanitizing stations and trying my best to create an environment that is as safe as I can make it, but I worry about the health of my older students and colleagues.”

Some individuals like Merkli worry about the health of students and staff returning to school, especially with some classrooms not being ideal for social distancing. The in-person learning section of the FUSD website states that when possible, class sizes will be decreased to allow more room for social distancing. 

However, Coconino High School senior Leah Richards said she supports the return to in-person learning. Richards explained that with cases in Flagstaff on the decline, as well as people getting vaccinated, returning to school is a good step in returning to the way things were before the pandemic. Richards also explained that the toughest part of online learning was the internet going out and the lack of communication and quick responses between students and teachers.

“I am really looking forward to seeing my friends and having at least a couple months of a somewhat normal senior year,” Richards said. “It’ll feel good to just walk through the halls again.”

Coconino High School juniors Aubrey Swatzell and Maddie Lorenzo also agreed that returning to in-person learning is a good idea. Swatzell’s reasoning was that students have been lacking social interaction, which she said is vital, as well as looking forward to being back in a classroom setting. Lorenzo said she missed the social interaction and feels that it is necessary to grow and learn. She also touched on the topic of learning better in-person due to the distractions that come with virtual learning and doing classes and coursework from home. 

“I personally think it is a good idea for students to go back to school,” Lorenzo said. “We need to have our social life back. Our mental health has been low since being online. We also haven’t met our teachers in person [and] they don’t even know who their students are. I [am] most looking forward to meeting my teachers and having the feeling of in-person learning.”

As FUSD returns to in-person learning, the district has requested parents to provide information in regard to their decision to have their children return to in-person learning or continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Moreover, FUSD has encouraged students to follow all recommendations as it pertains to public health practices, as the district is set to welcome students back into the classroom.