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Governor Ducey issues executive order requiring schools to offer in-person learning by March 15

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Posted at 1:25 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-14 09:53:05-04

PHOENIX — Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has issued an executive order requiring schools to get back to teacher-led, in-person instruction by March 15, or after Spring Break.

Gov. Ducey made the announcement Wednesday saying the decision was made following discussions with public school leaders, and in accordance with new guidance from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

According to metrics developed by the CDC, 12 of Arizona’s 15 counties are in phases where all schools are safe to open, including in the state’s two largest counties, Maricopa and Pima.

“Arizona’s students need to be back in the classroom. More than half of Arizona’s schools are open and offering in-person options. More schools need to follow their lead, and pave the way for equitable education options for every Arizona student,” said Governor Ducey. “The CDC and numerous health officials have said time and time again that schools are safe and kids can go back to the classroom. 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.”

Under the order, schools are to return to in-person learning by March 15, or after Spring Break.

The Cartwright School District in Phoenix told parents Wednesday night it will comply with the governor’s order to offer in-person learning by March 15, despite an earlier vote to remain virtual the rest of the year.

The district says there is a special governing board meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. to discuss next steps.

Governor Ducey’s office says an exception is made for middle and high schools located in counties with “high” transmission of COVID-19, which currently includes Coconino, Yavapai, and Pinal Counties.

However, CDC is clear that there is a safe pathway for all schools to open at any transmission level, and to stay open if they implement proper mitigation strategies. A student may continue participating in virtual instruction if their parent or guardian chooses so.

The order updates school reopening benchmarks developed and announced in August 2020, with the metrics recently developed by the CDC.

The metrics define “low”, “moderate",“substantial” and “high” transmission levels with operational strategies for schools to reopen at all transmission levels.

The Arizona Department of Education issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in response to the governor's order:

The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) is supportive of schools using layered mitigation strategies to safely initiate or expand in-person learning, as Superintendent Hoffman said in a press conference last week. However, the timing of this announcement will make it challenging for some schools that had already made plans to return to in-person instruction on a different schedule due to their local community circumstances. As a state, we should be collaborating to provide as much preparation and planning time as possible ahead of significant changes to school operations. 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.

With this new Executive Order (EO 2021-04), our goal will be to provide schools with the support needed to implement the requirements ahead of the March 15th reporting date. ADE would like to clarify that Tribal Sovereignty is still in effect regarding this new order – if a sovereign Tribal Nation has issued a stay-at-home order mandating students stay in distance learning, the new executive order does not impact them.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Arizona schools have prioritized their school communities' safety and well-being. That is no different under EO-2021-04. The Department stands ready to support all schools as they foster safe teaching and learning environments.

When asked if there are any exceptions to the March 15 deadline, the governor’s office said, "The order is pretty clear. I’ll defer to that.”

As for any penalties, the governor’s office says it is hopeful all districts will follow the order.