After months of crunching data, state health leaders put together detailed recommendations to help guide schools to a safe reopening plan.
Arizona Department of Health Services’ ‘Safely Return to In-Person Instruction’ plan, released Aug. 6, includes a list of benchmarks health officials advise districts to meet before allowing students to return to the classroom.
It asks that schools wait until counties see two weeks with less than 100 cases per 100,000 people, a percent positivity rate below 7%, and hospitalizations of COVID-like illnesses under 10%.
Governor Doug Ducey was questioned by reporters Thursday after several school districts chose to move forward with in-person learning Monday, despite not meeting those benchmarks.
"We're supportive of the districts," said Ducey. "We have some school districts that are packed with children, we have others where there's more room and availability and no one cares more about kids than their parents, their teachers, the principals and superintendents. There's also the option for distance learning for anyone that would like it, but when someone can safely get back inside a classroom with the teacher at the front of the classroom, that's something we're highly supportive of."
The reaction was surprising to some educators who've been openly critical of school districts making, what they call, a dangerous decision.
"Data-driven safety is not a recommendation for schools, it’s a requirement," said Jacob Frantz, who plans on resigning from the Queen Creek Unified School District Friday after much consideration. "That’s the most basic thing we can offer is a safe learning environment, and it’s not OK for us to say that’s not necessary.”
Later, the same was asked of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ.
"So some of those are very close [to meeting benchmarks]. It's going to depend, the safety is going to depend, on the mitigation steps that those schools are employing," she said. "They're supposed to post what they're going to do to keep your students safe on their website. And so, as a parent, I would encourage you to go see what the school district is doing. They are still offering virtual learning so if you don't feel that your child would be safe, they can, they can opt for the virtual learning."
Superintendent Kathy Hoffman sided with educators, though, tweeting:
"All schools should follow AZDHS public health benchmarks to protect their communities from #COVID19. Not following them is a disservice to the educators who continue to provide instruction via distance learning & families who are supporting distance learning."