student standing at closed school
Arizona Teacher Unionists Demand School Closures Over COVID Spike

January 3, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona educators have a new resolution to kick off 2022: a return to remote learning and school closures, with the struggle over school funding placed on the backburner temporarily. Teachers unions are calling for schools across Arizona to hold off on in-person learning for another two weeks due to the holiday spike in COVID-19 cases. 

Arizona Daily Independent reported on a key player in the push to pause in-person learning: Rebecca Garelli. She was also a critical player in the establishment of RedforEd, a teachers union activist movement, and a founding member of Arizona Educators United (AEU), a local affiliate of the National Educators United (NEU). AEU’s domain is defunct currently, though their Facebook page remains active. 

Garelli encouraged people to sign onto a letter from NEU to delay school openings for another two weeks. 

The letter was published the same day AEU published the results of a “Return to Safe Schools” survey by RedforEd to determine support for school reopenings. 

Of the nearly 500 responses from Arizona educators and community members spanning 81 different school districts and charter schools, 56 percent said “yes, with reservations” to reopening, about 24 percent said “no,” about 18 percent said “yes,” and about three percent qualified as “other” responses. Concerning work-related stress attached to in-person work: about 39 percent were “extremely stressed,” about 28 percent were “moderately stressed,” about 11 percent were “mildly stressed,” about 11 percent were “typical[ly] stress[ed],” and about 10 percent were “not stressed at all.

The Arizona transplant came from Chicago, where she made tens of thousands more — at least about $12,800 more —while working as a middle school math and science teacher in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) than she has in Arizona. According to open records, Garelli made around $80,800 a year as a middle school teacher and for three years an additional estimated $7,400 as a CPS consultant, then $69,000 with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). 

NotInOurSchools reported Garelli’s hire and relocation to Arizona following the appointment of Kathy Hoffman, the current Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. Garelli also serves on the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission Steering Committee.

The unionists’ timing this year to strong-arm a halt on returning to classrooms wasn’t novel. Last New Year’s Eve, Garelli suggested educators take coordinated “sickouts” and “other actions” on behalf of NEU. 

This year, Garelli promised that she wouldn’t be sending her children to school “anytime soon” due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. 

Another key player in the RedforEd founding, Arizona Education Association (AEA) President Joe Thomas, also called for remote learning. The AEA is a state affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA). 

Garelli, Thomas, and Dylan Wegela led AEU, which oversaw and organized the RedforEd movement. Noah Karvelis — a Littleton Elementary School District (LESD) music teacher quickly appointed as president of the Littleton Education Association (LEA), a local AEA affiliate, and AEU co-founder — told the Shanti Journal in a 2018 spotlight interview that RedforEd started as a Twitter exchange between him and Thomas. That interview has since been removed from the journal’s website. 

“RedforEd is a movement to increase funding for education in Arizona. The primary goal is to restore the $1.1 billion in education funding cuts. It all started with a tweet between myself and Joe Thomas discussing what the climate among educators in Arizona was like,” stated Karvelis. “Ultimately, we decided to have me start a RedforEd day.”

December of 2020, the NEA claimed that mitigation measures like remote learning were far more important than the effects they had on schoolchildren. The association claimed that the children were “resilient.”

“Yes, it’s been difficult. There is learning loss. There are social-emotional challenges. In some cases, there is sickness, economic hardship, or trauma,” wrote the NEA. “But students are extremely resilient.”

Last October, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared that the current state of youth mental health qualified as a national emergency. 

The next month, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published an opinion in USA Today urging schools nationwide to keep schools open. They cited the 50 percent decline in child and adolescent COVID-19 cases nationwide from late last August to late October.

“[I]t’s on adults to recognize that our highest responsibility to children and youth is to lift up their needs; equip them to be physically, mentally and socially healthy; and give them a chance, at long last, to thrive,” wrote the two officials. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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