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J.O. Combs Unified School District Governing Board Reverses Course, Votes To Delay In-Person Learning

The J.O. Combs Unified School District governing board has reversed its plan to start in-person classes this week and decided Wednesday in a 4-1 vote to delay them until Aug. 31. 

Governing Board President Shelly Hargis was the lone nay vote. 

"We know that the recent days have been difficult for our students and families, and that the decision made tonight will continue to generate emotion on both sides," Superintendent Greg Wyman said in a statement. "It is the unfortunate reality that no decision will satisfy everyone, but we will continue to make the right decisions for those who matter most: our students."

The San Tan Valley district now looking to start in-person classes on Aug. 31. It’ll hold a meeting later this month to determine if the area is meeting the recommended public health benchmarks to move forward with that plan. Hargis said she also wants to send out a survey to employees to gauge how many would be willing to return to work when in-person learning begins.

In-person and virtual classes came to a screeching halt this week after numerous staff members did not report to work citing COVID-19-related safety concerns. Some teachers felt the plan for in-person classes was unwise since Pinal County has not meet the three public health benchmarks recommended to start those classes. As of Wednesday, the area has met two of the metrics. 

The ongoing staff absence made board member Steven Ray feel like he had no choice but to vote to delay in-person classes, he said. He had previously voted to start them. 

“My decision at this point is moot because the teachers' coup d'état, mutiny, whatever you want to call it," he said. "They are in charge right now, we got to work to solve that.” 

Board member Bob D’Elena voted in support of the delay. He said many teachers and staff are older and he understand their desire to wait. D'Elena add that he’s seen schools in other states reopen and then closed again or quarantine students and staff due to COVID-19 outbreaks. 

“Think how disruptive it would be to our students and families if we open and then had to shut back down," he said. 

Before the vote, a handful of parents called on the board to hold the teachers who called off work accountable by docking their pay or terminating their contracts. 

The Show spoke with Superintendent Wyman early Thursday about the decision.

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Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.