(The Center Square) – Arizona’s top education official wants to change how schools decide when to open this fall in a way that’s more sensitive to local coronavirus outbreaks.
Kathy Hoffman, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, asked Gov. Doug Ducey Tuesday to allow schools flexibility to delay opening if their area isn’t hitting COVID-19 statistics including a downward trajectory of confirmed new cases; a decrease in positivity rates for testing; and widespread availability of testing with timely results.
Ducey’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about Hoffman’s letter. The governor said Thursday that he would be making a decision regarding schools reopening this week. He previously ordered the date be pushed back to August 17.
She also asked that Ducey guarantee full funding for distance learning to “ensure high-quality teaching and learning opportunities” and other student services.
“Like all educators, I want students back in our classrooms because that’s the best place for learning and growing,” Hoffman said. “However, we cannot ask schools to make decisions that will impact their teachers’ and students’ health and safety without first providing them with the necessary public health data and funding to make decisions.”
Maricopa County Department of Public Health director Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine agreed with Hoffman.
“A specific date is not what’s important,” she said Wednesday. “What’s important is looking at local transmission of COVID-19 in the community. There are a number of different sets of criteria out there. I can’t tell you specifically which ones to use. I think that needs to be decided by a group of experts in both education and public health but things that you might consider including in those criteria are requiring a downward slope of new cases of COVID-19, decrease in the percent of positivity of test results, and having the widespread availability of testing with timely test results.”
The county announced they would offer guidance for schools to safely reopen and offered “PPE starter kits” to schools that include several gowns, masks, gloves, and face shields.
Sunenshine said the school experience would be different when students can return, including guidance such as eating lunch in classrooms rather than in a cafeteria.
Schools will not be required to report individual outbreaks to public health officials, Sunenshine said.