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Arizona announces school benchmarks for in-person learning

(Thomas Wells/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP)

PHOENIX — Arizona health officials released much-anticipated benchmarks Thursday on how schools will be able to open for in-person instruction this academic year.

As expected, the county-specific benchmarks don’t include a set start date for schools but rather rely on metrics schools are recommended to meet in order to open.

Among the metrics are a positive case percentage total districts should meet in order to begin reopening.

A positive rate of 7% or less for two consecutive weeks would give clearance for schools to return to any in-person instruction.

Case rates also should be less than 100 per 100,000 people or see a two-week decline in number of cases.

The final metric requires hospital visits due to COVID-like illness be under 10%.

Districts must also unveil updated plans for the four recommended learning models — traditional, hybrid, virtual and intermittent — prior to reopening.

Local education agencies must post their plans to their website in order to reopen.

Metrics will be released and updated on a dashboard on the state’s health department website weekly on Thursdays.

The dashboard will include data from the previous two weeks. For the first dashboard release, the data will come from the weeks beginning July 12 and July 19.

“These are recommendations. It really is left up to that local education agency,” Dr. Cara Christ, the state’s public health director, said.

The state also offered guidance on how schools should proceed if coronavirus cases were to occur in classrooms and on school sites.

Additionally, Arizona will offer free coronavirus testing for students, staff and families in conjunction with “a handful of districts to start and that could grow.”

There will be seven testing sites available across metro Phoenix. Anyone interested in getting tested can sign up here.

Most school districts began the academic year this week with virtual-only instruction.

As the state grappled with a surge in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order June 29 delaying the beginning of in-school instruction until at least Aug. 17.

Ducey’s decision came after some schools districts had already pushed back their start dates, though most were were scheduled to begin the academic year in early August.

Schools were shut down for in-person learning on March 16 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit

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