Arizona ban on school mask mandates already backfiring, Hoffman says

Jul 29, 2021, 11:44 AM | Updated: 2:46 pm
(File Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)...
(File Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
(File Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said she is on Gov. Doug Ducey’s side when it comes to wanting kids back in classrooms, but a state ban on face mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates is already hindering that goal.

“If we’re not doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools, it becomes an operational nightmare, and we’ve already seen this. … There’s been one district that had to close schools this week because operationally they did not have enough staff to be able to serve their students,” Hoffman told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Thursday.

The Ash Fork School District, in consultation with the Yavapai County health department, closed campuses temporarily less than a week after classes started July 22 in response to a COVID-19 outbreak.

“They had too many positive cases of essential workers, including their bus drivers and teachers, so that they unfortunately were not able to offer in-person instruction for … this week of school and then they plan to resume in-person learning next week,” Hoffman said.

Most of the state’s schools don’t start until next week, but Hoffman said entire classrooms already have gone into quarantine in other districts.

“We’re not doing everything we can to prevent these types of situations,” she said. “We want our kids back in the classroom learning. But when COVID-19 is spreading and people are testing positive or they’re exposed and … they can’t be back in the school building, then we’re creating a situation that is the opposite of what Gov. Ducey and I want.”

Citing new information about the delta variant’s ability to spread regardless of a person’s vaccination status, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools.

While Arizona public districts and charter schools can’t enact mask or vaccine mandates under a law passed in June by Republican lawmakers as part of the state budget, students and staff can wear face coverings if they choose to.

Hoffman said not all parents have ample opportunity to research the issue on their own or discuss it with medical experts. There also are other challenges, such as language barriers, she said. Plus, she noted, kids under 12 aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“So I just don’t assume that everyone has the same information or the same time to do the research,” she said. “And so that’s why it’s important for the public health experts to make recommendations and for people who are in leadership roles to provide that steady leadership of relaying the information and educating their communities about what’s best practice.”

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Arizona ban on school mask mandates already backfiring, Hoffman says