On Tuesday, ABC15 learned that state leaders have quietly changed recommendations for school metrics as COVID-19 cases are rising.
In an email to ABC15, a spokesperson for ADHS said, “In consultation with stakeholders, last week the Arizona Department of Health Services updated its recommendations based on the school benchmarks to be consistent with the recent change in how counties can move between moderate and substantial spread on the business benchmarks.”
The state uses three different metrics when it comes to school benchmarks: cases, percent positivity and COVID-like illness.
The new recommendations for school districts include if one of those benchmarks move to substantial spread for two weeks, ADHS recommends leaders begin discussing a potential move from hybrid learning to virtual learning with local health departments.
ADHS goes on to say that they now recommend school district leaders to move from hybrid to virtual learning if all three benchmarks move to substantial for two weeks.
“ADHS established the benchmarks in collaboration with local public health officials and education partners to guide decisions by public school districts and charter schools on when to offer virtual, hybrid, or in-person instruction amid the current COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read.
It is unclear how school districts were notified of this change, but a spokesperson for Maricopa County said that their health department learned of the change late Monday afternoon.
In an email, a county spokesperson said, “Today (Tuesday, October 27, 2020) was the first opportunity for public health officers from around the state to meet on a conference call and ask ADHS questions about the guidance.”
Along with changing the recommendations for schools, state officials changed a section of the "Safely Returning to In-Person Instruction" plan that is posted on their website.
The original document from this summer states, “Schools should start preparing for virtual learning when one or more of the benchmarks are in the substantial spread category,” it stated.
The new recommendation on page six now states all three benchmarks should be in the red, “If a county has all three benchmarks in the red category, they should prepare to transition to virtual learning, and consult with their local health department.”
An ADHS spokesperson said that they wanted to give a reminder that these are recommendations, “They give school leaders clear metrics on the level of COVID-19 spread in each county. Decisions about whether what type of instruction schools are offering should be made by local school leaders in consultation with county public health officials.”
A spokesperson for ADHS said Tuesday night that the department is in regular communication with stakeholders, such as multiple October meetings of the School Task Force.
The Arizona Department of Education issued the following statement Tuesday evening:
"The Arizona Department of Education relies on public health experts at the state and county level to work directly with schools to interpret local health data and assist school leaders in making decisions regarding the appropriate instruction model for their communities. Changes or adjustments to public health recommendations are communicated from public health entities to schools through these channels. Schools are advised to work closely with their county health officials to interpret these recommendations and make the best decisions for their communities."