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Arizona school leaders reevaluate staying open as COVID-19 cases rise

(Facebook Photo/Scottsdale USD)

PHOENIX — Rising COVID-19 numbers in Arizona have forced district leaders to make tough decisions about whether to keep schools open.

The Madison Elementary School District is the latest to announce it’s going back to online learning starting Nov. 30 with the exception of preschool and some special education programs.

The district’s governing board voted 3-2 in favor of doing that Tuesday night.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health’s dashboard for schools shows COVID-19 cases in the district have been rising, though the district’s percent positivity rate and hospital visits for COVID-like illness are classified as moderate and minimal, respectively.

Madison Elementary Governing Board member Mitra Khazai explained her yes vote, saying schools can’t remain open “in today’s environment.” She also doesn’t think the state is doing enough to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

She said while other states are temporarily closing businesses in response to rising COVID-19 numbers, they continue to remain open in Arizona with limited capacity. There are also no travel restrictions or COVID-19 test requirements for people visiting Arizona.

“That encapsulates the challenges that we’re facing,” Khazai said. “We’re not doing the things at the state level that we need to do to keep our kids in school.”

The Paradise Valley Unified Schools District is also returning to online learning starting Monday due to county dashboard data showing an increase in COVID-19 cases in the district.

Other school districts that have also halted in-person classes and returned to online learning include Phoenix Elementary School District, Agua Fria Union High School District, and Creighton Elementary School District.

Meanwhile, other school districts are staying open.

Queen Creek Unified School District was one of the first to return to in-person learning on Aug. 17, while still offering an online option for students.

Ken Brague, the district’s governing board president, vowed during Tuesday night’s meeting to keep schools open so students can attend classes in person.

“We will find every excuse we can to stay open,” he said. “While others are finding excuses to close, let them. We will stay open.”

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health’s schools dashboard recommends schools in the Queen Creek Unified School District prepare for virtual learning given one of its benchmarks is in the red.

The benchmark for cases per 100,000 people in the district is classified as “substantial.” However, the percent positivity rate in the district is at “moderate”, and the COVID-like illness category is at “minimal.”

All three benchmarks need to be in the red for two consecutive weeks before schools are recommended to only offer virtual learning.

Brague noted there have been fewer than 70 positive COVID-19 cases reported among the 10,000 staff and students in the district. He also said on average five positive cases are reported per week.

“Our kids are incredibly safe,” he said.

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