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Confusion arises over Valley school districts and COVID-19 policies as state cases increase

Posted at 12:46 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 15:55:54-04

As back-to-school approaches and COVID-19 cases in our state see consistent increases, many families are wondering how schools will handle cases since kids under 12 aren’t eligible to be vaccinated.

Just this week, the governor’s office called out two school districts for their quarantine policies, saying that they violate a new law.

On Wednesday, the governor’s office tweeted a letter to the Peoria School District saying the school is not allowed to quarantine unvaccinated students who have possibly been exposed to the coronavirus. The letter argued that the policy discriminates against children whose parents have chosen not to receive the vaccine and that it will lead to “entire classrooms” of students under 12 being quarantined.

An advisor from the office said that the school district’s policy breaks the new law that says schools can’t require masks or vaccines.

Peoria officials responded saying their policy follows the guidance of state and county health departments that advises those who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 to isolate or quarantine.

Chris Kotterman, the Director of Governmental Relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, said that the letter has led to some confusion and frustration amongst educators.

“It creates confusion, and frankly gives the impression that it’s more about politics than it is about making good public health policy,” he said. “Governing boards across the state are tired of being in the middle of a political fight about a contagious disease. They just want to do school.”

Recent county health documents state that quarantine protocols depend on whether someone has been vaccinated and that those “who are not fully vaccinated...should receive diagnostic testing and are required to quarantine away from others.

Kotterman recommends that parents communicate with individual districts and schools to find out what their policies are.

“Districts are encouraged to follow the department of health services’ guidance on what’s appropriate for exposure to COVID,” he said. “If the governor decides to order the DHS to change their guidance, we’ll follow that.”

Right now, masks are optional and cannot be required under a new state law.

“We expect Arizona’s public school[s] to comply with state law and we’re not going to allow anyone to deny Arizona kids an education,” a spokesperson from the Governor’s Office said. “Governor Ducey and the Arizona Legislature addressed this issue just a few weeks ago. The language in this legislation is specific to schools and it’s not the same as general public health guidelines. It takes into account that school is the safest place for kids, whether they are vaccinated or not, and that they have a right to receive in-person education.”

State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman released a statement to ABC15 in response to the letters.

“Since Governor Ducey claimed victory on COVID-19, he has completely left our young students and those who are unvaccinated behind,” she said. “Schools have a responsibility to ensure that our young, unvaccinated students are not needlessly exposed to COVID-19 or any other illness. I applaud public school districts and charters for following the guidance of public health officials to ensure student and staff safety this upcoming school year.”

WHERE ARE STATE COVID-19 NUMBERS NOW?

ABC15 broke down the latest numbers of recent coronavirus cases across Arizona.

Take a look at the chart below for weekly Arizona COVID-19 case counts since May.

Looking at weekly changes in COVID-19 cases and vaccinations, June saw an increase in cases while vaccines plateaued.

See the weekly case and vaccination changes in the chart below.

Looking at the weekly case changes by age, the 20 to 44 age range remains steadily in the 40-50% range.

Take a look at the COVID-19 weekly change breakdown by age in the chart below.