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Arizona health officials release benchmarks to help districts weigh reopening schools

Safely Back to School
Posted at 10:09 AM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 01:32:56-04

PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Health Services Thursday released much-anticipated benchmarks school districts across the state will use to decide if and when they can safely reopen schools for in-person instruction.

The metrics are based on county data and while charter schools and districts are not mandated to follow them, DHS is recommending all three of the following benchmarks be met in order to reopen school buildings safely.

  • Decrease in cases per 100,000 people for a two-week rolling average (not including the current week)
  • Percent positivity numbers for two-week rolling average (not including current week)
    • Under 5% is green/minimal community spread
      • Schools could reopen for traditional instruction.
    • 5%-10% is yellow/moderate community spread.
      • Schools must meet a 7% threshold at a minimum to be considered safe for hybrid instruction.
      • If the rate goes over 10% then schools should pull back and return to distance learning.
    • Over 10% is red/substantial community spread.
      • Only distance learning and targeted onsite support is advisable
  • Two-week decline in COVID-like illness for a two-week rolling average, not including the current week

FULL COVERAGE: Reopening Arizona's schools

As of Wednesday, Maricopa County's percent positivity rate was at 13 percent, down from 21 percent one month ago. While the trend is encouraging, the executive director of Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Marcy Flanagan, warned more progress needs to be made before schools can safely welcome students and teachers back to campus.

See the latest reopening plans from Valley districts in the map below.

"We would not recommend full in-class, teacher-lead learning at this point," said Flanagan. "A few of the benchmarks were actually doing well and successful, however our percent of positivity is not at a place where we would say it is safe to bring all students and teachers back to in-person learning."

An executive order from Governor Doug Ducey still puts the earliest date for in-person instruction at August 17. More than two dozen districts have already taken their own actions and delayed in-person target dates through Labor Day or even Fall Break. However, many charter schools and districts are still aiming for an August 17 start for in-person learning.

"I don't want to say that we won't be ready August 17, or we won't be ready until after Labor Day," Flanagan said Wednesday. "What I'm saying is we are not ready to fully go back to in-person classes until we meet the benchmarks that we identify."

Flanagan says the department will be working closely with districts to help them interpret the guidance from the state. The County will also set up a data dashboard for schools, tracking COVID-19 case numbers and percent positivity by zip code, school district and city.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Monday that the state is not yet equipped to begin in-person learning by August 17.

To read the full guidance, click here or read below: