One week into Peoria Unified School District’s (PUSD) school year, parents are already reporting that their students have been required to quarantine until they receive a negative test result – even if they’re not symptomatic or feeling sick in the slightest. Students are required to quarantine 10 days at most, 3 if they test negative for the virus. However, these rules don’t apply to everybody.
Only fully vaccinated individuals, “essential worker” educators that are asymptomatic, and those who’ve recovered from COVID-19 in the last three months aren’t required to quarantine. According to PUSD policy, the district will continue to quarantine all others exposed to COVID-19 at the discretion of Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH). If the county determines that there’s been an “outbreak,” they will require all students exposed to the infected student to be quarantined.
Educators may remain in school so long as they wear masks if they’ve been exposed and are asymptomatic – but unvaccinated, asymptomatic students who haven’t contracted COVID in the last three months must go home.
“Students, staff, and educators who are close contacts of someone who has COVID-19 and are not fully vaccinated (or have not tested positive for and recovered from COVID-19 in the prior 3 months) must quarantine away from others for up to 10 days following their last exposure per MCDPH. Importantly, per CDC, ADHS, and MCDPH, all close contacts who have been fully vaccinated (starting 2 weeks after the final COVID-19 vaccine dose) do not need to quarantine if they do not have any symptoms. In other words, if identified as a close contact, the need to quarantine depends on a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status and/or COVID-19 infection history. MCDPH recommends that close contacts be tested for COVID-19 3-5 days following their last exposure, regardless of vaccination status.
Close contacts who must quarantine need to be excluded from school and extracurricular activities during their quarantine period. The duration of quarantine is either 10 full days or 7 full days following their last exposure, as long as a COVID-19 test performed on day 6 or 7 is negative and the contact has no symptoms. If a staff member or an educator is determined to be a close contact who must quarantine and they are considered to be an essential worker (as designated by the school), they can continue to work during their quarantine period if they do not have any symptoms and wear a mask while working. Please see the Quarantine Guidance on the MCDPH website for more detailed information.” (original emphasis included and emphasis added)
Previous Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas told AZ Free News that quarantining healthy students is negatively impacting their education. Douglas referenced the stunted reading skills of younger children who’d done distance learning due to COVID-19.
“The parents I hear from, they’re not happy. They don’t want their kids quarantined, potentially without an illness,” said Douglas. “We’re taking very extreme responses to something I don’t think deserves such an extreme response and we’re not looking at the damage it’s doing to our children’s learning.”
Douglas relayed the story of one mother who’d confided that her son was forced to quarantine 6 times for COVID-19 exposure – altogether, he missed 2 months of school – but he never became sick.
The former superintendent asserted that this continued exercise of power has gone too far.
“Unfortunately, and this in my opinion, they’ve just pretty much been given free reign to do whatever they want to do – I think it’s the old saying, absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Douglas.
An insulting comment emailed from the principal of a Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) elementary school to another employee in which she called some parents “whackos” and criticized the district board’s handling of a meeting has been called out by a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Diane Douglas called on PUSD Superintendent Dr. Jason Reynolds to publicly address “the overt and covert contempt which has been and continues to be expressed towards the community” by Tonja Neve, who is principal of the Desert Valley Elementary School in Glendale until June 30.
“That board meeting was ridiculous,” Neve wrote on Feb. 1 to Jennifer Mundy, an administrator of another district school. “”I’m sick of us giving these whackos a platform to spread propaganda without making any correction statements.” Neve was referring to about one dozen parents who addressed the board about Critical Race Theory.
Another email between Neve and Mundy that day shows the principal believed the administration “has some control to quiet those pushy voices.” She also provided information about a court case which reinforced the power of principals to set boundaries in parent-school communication.
Douglas directed her comments at Reynolds in an opinion published last week in the American Daily Independent. But she was not merely relying on her experience from 2015 to 2018 in a state executive office where she was responsible for ensuring the accurate and lawful distribution of nearly $6 billion in education funding.
In her comments, Douglas points out she has an even bigger reason for speaking up, having been elected as a member of the PUSD board from 2005 to 2012, serving as board president in 2008 and 2009.
Douglas’ letter was prompted by PUSD’s release of some of Neve’s emails in response to a public records request. There was also the fact the school’s American flag was displayed inverted on June 14 – Flag Day.
“As if an employee of a government school, funded by taxpayer dollars, referring to the parents and citizens who pay her salary as ‘whackos’ was not bad enough, now there is the displaying of an inverted American flag,” Douglas noted to Reynolds. “Such utter disrespect to our country and the very citizens she is hired to serve would be disgraceful on any day. But that such a stunt occurred on June 14th Flag Day –the day we honor and commemorate the adoption of the American Flag– makes it all the more inexcusable and unforgivable.”
Douglas added that “the only saving grace is that school is out of session and the students weren’t witness to such blatant disrespect of our flag by an entity of the very government it represents.”
Neve’s contract with PUSD expires June 30 after which she will move her family to take a principal position at an elementary school in New Hampshire. Earlier this month she issued a statement about her emails.
“My comments were unprofessional and I apologize for that,” Neve said. “My comments were in regards to audience members who were coming to our board and calling teachers out by name and misconstruing and devaluing the hard work they do. My comment was made in the heat of the moment and in defense of my profession and colleagues.”
But Neve’s departure should not be the end of issue, Douglas told Reynolds.
“With all due respect, in my humble opinion, the Board and the PUSD community are entitled to an explanation as to how administration intends to handle such incidents of disrespect toward the community going forward,” she wrote.
An online social justice curriculum funded by Big Tech giants, EverFi, promised $15 gift cards to teachers who successfully got other teachers to start their students on one lesson.
According to an email obtained by the AZ Free News, Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) teachers were incentivized with $15 Amazon gift cards by an EverFi director of K-12 implementation. One of EverFi’s foremost contributors is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos through his investment company, Bezos Expeditions.
“As a thank you, earn a $15 Amazon gift card for every teacher you refer who gets students started on one EVERFI lesson – just click the Invite a Teacher button (terms) I’m here for you – schedule a time with me to support you and/or your students,” read the email.
Curriculum obtained by AZ Free News showed that EverFi lesson plans included the histories of Juneteenth and affirmative action, assertion of systemic racism, and the promotion of equity instead of equality.
EverFi is advertised as free for K-12 teachers. The company reportedly offsets the cost through national and regional partners.
PUSD staffers confirmed that although the district has used EverFi for around a decade, educators use it sporadically. In an email obtained by AZ Free News, Executive Director of K-12 Curriculum & Professional Development Marla Hobbs claimed that few teachers utilize Everfi. She added that those who do use the resource use it on odd occasions.
EverFi was founded in 2008, with a focus on obtaining major corporate sponsors to fund their educational initiatives.
Now, over a decade later, they have accomplished just that. Some of their noteworthy contributors over the years include Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO; Evan Williams, founder of Twitter, Medium, and Blogger; and Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman.
Other big businesses also have their hands in Arizona’s public education. Companies like Boeing and Wells Fargo are part of the Arizona Educational Foundation Board, an initiative focused on bringing social justice to classrooms. The Arizona Educational Foundation has pushed a program called “Our World,” which aims to provide educator and business training and workshops on antiracism, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Much like EverFi, Our World is free of charge to Arizona schools.
Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.