Some Arizona schools exempted from providing on-site support services

Aug 20, 2020, 4:35 AM | Updated: 7:10 am
(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)...
(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Even if they’re not offering in-person classes, public schools in Arizona must provide on-site support services for students.

But some have been exempted.

As of Wednesday morning, at least two dozen school districts and charter schools had applied for a waiver so that they don’t have to provide the on-site services.

About half were approved, the vast majority of them on tribal lands, according to data by the Arizona Department of Education, which reviews the waiver requests.

The Phoenix Union High School District, which plans to resume in-person instruction mid-October, is among those whose request was denied.

The district told KTAR News 92.3 FM in a statement that community spread of COVID-19 in Phoenix Union is triple the 7% positivity rate recommended by the state’s public health benchmark for a safe return to school.

The district also noted it nearly doubles the benchmark’s recommended case rate of less than 100 cases per 100,000 population.

“At this point, based on these metrics, PXU believes that it is not in the best interest of the broader Phoenix community to reopen schools,” the statement reads.

The district added it will continue to provide limited on-site support to students “who are most in need,” including students with special needs, homeless students and English language learners.

It will also “cautiously and responsibly increase on-site opportunities as the spread decreases.”

Cartwright School District, Pendergast Elementary School District, Glendale Elementary School District and Littleton Elementary School District #65 also applied and were denied.

Gov. Doug Ducey through an executive order in July made it a requirement for schools to make on-site support services available to students.

To be waived of that requirement, a district or charter must show proof that their local county health department is advising them to close because of a coronavirus outbreak.

Those on tribal sovereign nations can also apply for the waiver if there’s a stay-at-home order impacting an entire school district or charter school on or next to a reservation.

Tolleson Union High School District had its waiver approved last Friday.

The only other Valley school district that has been approved is the Tolleson Elementary School District.

“The concern was that we could not safely bring students and staff to the campus and keep them safe,” Tolleson Union Superintendent Nora Gutierrez told KTAR News.

Gutierrez said county health officials advised the district to not provide support services on school campuses because of the high rate of COVID-19 infection in the area.

“Their data indicated that Tolleson proper has been determined to be a hotbed for COVID-19,” she said.

“I also requested data for the ZIP codes of our high schools, and that data also indicated that we were above Maricopa County’s rate.”

In a letter to the district, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health said in June Tolleson had nearly 2.4 times the rate of COVID-19 cases compared with Maricopa County.

The rate dropped to 1.8 times in July, which the county health department said is “still concerning as a hot spot.”

It also stated schools should not provide on-site support services until “the Tolleson case rate reaches 1.5X the case rate of Maricopa County for 2 consecutive weeks.”

Gutierrez said the district will continue to provide some services, including a week’s worth of breakfast and lunch that students can pick up at school or have delivered at their home.

“My charge as superintendent is, first, academic achievement for all of our students and, second, the safety and security of all of our staff and students,” she said.

“We have adhered to both of those charges.”

Her district is offering classes fully online and plans to reopen schools for in-person learning until Oct. 9.

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Some Arizona schools exempted from providing on-site support services