Ducey defends schools reopening without meeting COVID-19 benchmarks

Share this article!

Gov.
Doug Ducey defended some school districts’ decisions to resume
in-person classes next week, even though their counties don’t meet the
COVID-19 criteria that his administration established for when schools
could reopen safely.

The Arizona Department of Health Services last week unveiled its recommended benchmarks that school districts and charter schools can use to determine when it’s safe to open. The three-tiered system uses three metrics:
percentage of COVID tests that are positive, the percentage of hospital
visits that are for COVID-like illnesses and the number of cases per
100,000 people.

Though
ADHS recommended that schools continue remote-only learning until their
county’s testing positive rate is below 10%, the agency said last week
that it would be better for schools to wait until that metric hits the
7% mark. If a county has more than 100 COVID cases per 100,000 people,
the recommendations green-light a school’s shift from remote-only
learning to a hybrid system if that number has dropped for two
consecutive weeks.

But the recommendations aren’t mandatory, and some districts are taking advantage of that.

The governing boards for the Queen Creek Unified School District and J.O. Combs Unified School District in San Tan Valley voted this week to resume in-person classes on Aug. 17,
which was the original target date for schools to reopen, even though
neither Maricopa nor Pinal County meets the criteria for doing so. The
East Valley Institute of Technology and American Leadership Academy
charter schools will also begin in-person instruction on Monday.

Nonetheless,
Ducey supported the districts’ decisions, despite their sidestepping of
“data-driven benchmarks” that he described as “the most responsible way
to safely reopen in a gradual and cautious way.”

“The
state is headed in the right direction. Most of our counties are headed
in the right direction. So, what we wanted to do was provide a menu of
options and flexibility in the guidelines so that there’s safety inside
our schools,” Ducey said at a press briefing on Thursday. “We’re going
to leave ultimate and final decision to superintendents and principals,
and I’m confident they’ll make good decisions.”

ABC15 reported that two Queen Creek teachers quit their jobs in response to the district’s reopening.

TucsonSentinel.com relies on contributions from our readers to support our reporting on Tucson’s civic affairs. Donate to TucsonSentinel.com today!
If you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors, colleagues and customers to help support quality local independent journalism.

Ducey
said the benchmarks were meant to help districts guide their
decision-making, and said they left schools with a great deal of
flexibility. He and ADHS
Director Cara Christ emphasized that schools are also supposed to
take other measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, such
as masking, physical distancing and sanitation. Ducey also noted that
schools can still offer remote learning for parents who don’t think it’s
safe to send their children back to brick-and-mortar schools. Both
Queen Creek and J.O. Combs will continue providing online instruction.

No
county has yet fully hit the benchmarks that ADHS recommends before
districts end online-only learning. But as of Thursday, when this week’s
numbers were updated, several are close, Christ noted.

“The
safety is going to depend on the mitigation steps that those schools
are employing. They’re supposed to post what they’re going to do to keep
the students safe on their website,” she said.

Christ
added, “There are so many things that happen at school that are
important for the appropriate growth and development for children that,
if we can get them back into the classroom, we want to get them back in
the classroom.”

State schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman,
who announced the benchmarks with Christ last week, isn’t as sanguine
about the situation. The superintendent tweeted on Wednesday
that all school districts should abide by the guidelines, and that
ignoring them is a “disservice to the educators who continue providing
instruction via distance learning & families who are supporting
distance learning..

Spokesman
Richie Taylor said Hoffman believes districts shouldn’t be flouting the
guidelines, though she doesn’t necessarily think those recommendations
should be mandatory.

“The
superintendent believed that the benchmarks should be followed. That
hasn’t changed. The superintendent also believes that schools should be
listening to their educators and staff as they make these decisions,”
Taylor told the Arizona Mirror.

Taylor
said districts aren’t required to offer distance learning once they
resume in-person instruction, but said the Arizona Department of
Education believes they should continue providing that option to
students.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

– 30 –

This content was originally published here.