/ Modified aug 14, 2020 5:11 p.m.

Online learning, flying during the pandemic, OSIRIS-REx update

Plus, a discussion with outgoing Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall.

After receiving more guidance from the state about how to safely reopen campuses, the new school year is off to a virtual start for the majority of Arizona’s students. Arizona 360 visited Mesquite Elementary in the Vail School District on the first day of class to see how educator Shannon Jelle was managing distance learning with her fifth grade class.

Vail School District includes more than 20 campuses and over 12,000 students. Providing them with a quality education while protecting them from the pandemic presents an ongoing challenge. We learned how the district is handling both from Superintendent John Carruth.

“We’re starting quite smoothly, actually. We put a huge amount of time and effort into developing what remote learning will look like and making sure we’re doing that in a much more robust way than when we ended fourth quarter,” Carruth said.

Carruth said when COVID-related metrics fall to safe levels in Pima County and the district can begin to bring students back, it will continue to offer remote options for families concerned about the virus.

“We won’t be bringing kids back in a large way until public health metrics say it’s reasonably safe to do so,” Carruth said.

As schools look to mitigate the risks of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus, they find themselves in similar positions as businesses regarding whether their actions could result in a lawsuit. For clarification we turned to Tara Sklar, an expert in health law and policy at the University of Arizona College of Law.

“As long as schools are taking all reasonable care to follow the guidance that’s been given to them, by their school districts and county health departments or state, they are protecting themselves against liability,” Sklar said. “They’re showing they’re taking reasonable efforts to make sure that their staff and their students are safe.”

Sklar explained that schools can look to how assisted living facilities handled the pandemic to determine best practices or avoid any missteps.

“There are ways to safely reopen but it involves disciplined communal effort, transparency with the data, ongoing communication. It is not something that we can just have wishful thinking and we can magically reopen. It is an ongoing effort,” Sklar said.

During the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone toward upgrades at the Tucson International Airport to protect visitors and workers from being exposed to the coronavirus. Tony Paniagua spoke to airport officials who explained that they’re also dealing with steep financial losses tied to an overall decline in air travel. He also heard from passengers about whether the pandemic has changed the way they feel about flying.

After more than 20 years on the job, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall will leave her post at the end of the year. Last October, LaWall announced that she would not seek a seventh term. We spoke to her about what she sees as her impact as the county’s top prosecutor.

“I think one of the things that I’m most proud of is the creative and innovative programs that I’m going to leave behind, that I hope are built upon,” LaWall said. She highlighted the Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center as one of her greatest achievements. The center has expanded over the years since LaWall took office and provides resources for children who are the victims of abuse. She said she would have liked to continue growing services to include families and adult victims of domestic violence.

LaWall also refuted criticism that her office has been too hard on drug crimes by pointing to diversion programs it has deployed.

“I have like 13 diversion programs that deal with diverting people from prosecution. People who are arrested on drug offenses,” LaWall said. “I have never prosecuted anyone for personal possession of marijuana since 1996. That hasn’t happened if it’s up to two pounds of marijuana. That’s a huge amount.”

LaWall said she emailed her presumed successor Laura Conover about meeting members of the attorney’s office to help with Conover’s transition into the role.

“It’d be really important for her to take me up on this offer,” LaWall said. “People are very anxious to meet her. They want to know who their new leader is going to be.”

The mission to bring an asteroid sample back to earth is one step closer to its goal after a successful rehearsal this week. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft came within 40 meters of the asteroid Bennu during a rehearsal of the steps it will take when it finally collects a sample from the surface, according to University of Arizona professor and OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta. Lauretta spoke to Christopher Conover about the milestone and the mission’s next steps in the coming months.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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