Gov. Ducey orders Arizona schools to offer in-person classes by March 15
PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday ordered most of the state’s K-12 schools to provide in-person instruction within two weeks.
The order says public district and charter schools statewide must offer students in-person and virtual options by March 15 or upon their return from spring break while maintaining practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“The CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and numerous health officials have said time and time again that schools are safe and kids can go back to the classroom,” Ducey said in a press release.
“We prioritized teachers in our vaccine distribution, and many have already received their second dose. The science is clear: it’s time all kids have the option to return to school so they can get back on track and we can close the achievement gap.”
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said the timing of Ducey’s order “will make it challenging” for some schools to comply.
“As a state, we should be collaborating to provide as much preparation and planning time as possible ahead of significant changes to school operations,” Hoffman said in a statement.
“To achieve stability for our school communities, it’s necessary to provide them with adequate time to inform and ready their staff, students and families.”
Hoffman said the Department of Education will provide support to help schools meet Ducey’s deadline.
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, took issue with Ducey’s executive order, saying the governor gave school leadership the power to make decisions on instruction only to take it away.
“That’s why it was so curious to see the governor release an executive order via Twitter that in effect pushes aside all the good work we’ve been doing in every one of the communities across the state,” Thomas told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “He said here’s a date and time where we’re all going to be on the same page.”
Thomas was also concerned with requiring in-person instruction options to begin after spring break when many families will go on vacation and mingle with other people, adding some districts were thinking about temporarily moving to virtual or hybrid the week after spring break to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
“The governor’s executive order effectively ends that,” Thomas said.
Many Arizona schools already have resumed in-person classes or were planning to do so. The Arizona Department of Education maintains a tracker showing the learning model status at schools statewide as of Feb. 3. The information is self-reported and may be incomplete.
Ducey’s order also changes the state’s transmission benchmarks from substantial, moderate and minimal to the CDC standards of low, moderate, substantial and high.
The edict includes exceptions for middle and high schools in counties with a high transmission rate as defined by the CDC. Currently, Coconino, Yavapai and Pinal fall into that category.
Nine of the state’s 15 counties, including Maricopa, are in the CDC’s substantial category, and three are in the moderate range.
In counties with substantial transmission, middle and high schools will be allowed to reduce attendance to allow for adequate physical distancing.
Districts or charter schools that don’t fall under other exceptions can only close at the advice of their local health departments in response to a significant outbreak of COVID-19.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report.