PHOENIX — The organization representing Arizona’s public-school districts is urging Governor Doug Ducey to establish clear, decisive criteria before reopening our state's schools.
In a letter to Ducey, Executive Director of Arizona School Boards Association, Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams, urges the governor to take a science and data-based approach to schools reopening amid the pandemic.
Dr. Harrison-Williams said conditions in Arizona are not yet suitable to safely return to in-person learning and other activities.
The doctor said school officials desperately need guidance from health and safety professionals as to when to reopen.
In the letter, Dr. Harrison-Williams noted three areas they want Ducey to consider in his decision as to when to reopen schools.
The criteria would include:
New Cases: A downward trajectory of documented cases of COVID-19 for at least 28 days.
Percent Positive: A decrease in percentage of positive COIVD-19 tests for at least 28 days while maintaining a flat or increasing test volume.
Robust Testing: Percent positive cases are less than/equal to 15% for at least 14 days consecutive days, and median time to obtain test results is less than or equal to three days.
The criteria would be implemented on a county-by-county basis, grant explicit authority for districts to maintain social distancing whenever students are at school, and direct the Department of Health Services to define a protocol that includes contact tracing if it is discovered that a staff member or student reports a positive COVID-19 test result.
The doctor said communities that do not meet the criteria should be suspended until such time as in-person instruction can resume. They should also be suspended in the event a positive case or resurgence of the virus causes school closure.
Dr. Harrison-Williams went on to say districts have interpreted “free onsite learning” in different ways and are concerned that if they are not able to limit the number of students on their campuses, the order could undermine their ability to enforce proper social distancing.
The letter asks for explicit direction that school districts will use to stay consistent with maintaining appropriate social distancing on school campuses.
The doctor also asked for specific direction on what to do if a student, staff member, or community member has tested positive for COVID-19.
State School Superintendent Kathy Hoffman echoed Dr. Harrison-Williams' concerns in a memo sent Tuesday afternoon.
Hoffman asked the governor to use heath data to determine reopening metrics, and also requested that he guarantee full funding for distance learning to ensure comprehensive, high quality teaching, learning opportunities and critical student services.
Hoffman said schools cannot be asked to make decisions that will impact their teachers’ and students’ health and safety.