Arizona governor hands mask decisions to school officials

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Gov. Doug Ducey removed the statewide order that ordered K-12 schools to require masks Monday afternoon, giving local principals the responsibility of deciding whether masks will be necessary for the last weeks of the school year.

The announcement drew swift condemnation from some school administrators, who predicted the school year would end with skirmishes at school entrances and tense board meetings over whether the use of masks should be continued.

A spokeswoman for an anti-mandate group called Arizona Stands United said it was a first step in creating a “mask choice” for children, on the heels of a rally last week in State Capitol and a controversial comment period before the Chandler Unified School District. . She pledged the organization would take its campaign to more school districts this spring.

In making his decision, the governor cited progress in statewide immunization efforts, noting that teachers were among the first to receive the vaccines. And, he added, children are at low risk of transmission.

“This decree and emergency measure ensures that schools are able to make their own decisions about mask requirements, based on the needs of their community, in accordance with CDC guidelines,” the spokesperson wrote. de Ducey, CJ Karamargin, in an emailed statement.

He did not directly address how the action aligns with the requirements of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The late afternoon announcement has left many school officials wary of what schools Tuesday will look like.

They predicted a reaction similar to what happened last month when Ducey removed restrictions on business operations. This decision created confusion, with the rules varying from company to company. Two weeks ago, a man challenged a request for a mask from local merchant Joe, saying the governor’s decision gave him permission to enter any business without being masked.

“If I were a principal or a board member, I would dread tomorrow already,” Chris Kotterman of the Arizona School Boards Association said Monday, hours after Ducey’s action.

Public school principal Kathy Hoffman called the announcement the latest example of what she called a “long series of decisions” that resulted in 17,000 deaths in Arizona.

Kathy Hoffman, Superintendent of Public Education, speaks at a press conference on February 24, 2021, at the Arizona Department of Education, 1535 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix.

“Today’s announcement is destabilizing school communities as they end what has arguably been the most difficult year for education,” Hoffman said in an emailed statement. “I encourage school leaders and board members to work with their communities to make transparent, evidence-based decisions that build confidence in the safety of our schools.”

Jenny Jackson, of Arizona Stands United, said the governor’s decision would put more emphasis on local districts.

“I think it would be a great way to end the school year, listening to the kids and hearing their voices,” Jackson said. At the “choose the mask” gatherings, the children discussed how depressing the requirement for the mask is, which limits their interaction. with their classmates and teachers,she said.

The choice of whether or not to hide, Jackson said, should be up to children in consultation with their parents.

She was among the parents who spoke to the Chandler School Board last week about the problems masks pose for students.

On Monday evening, officials at Chandler’s school said their mask requirements remained in place, adding that students who show up without a mask will either be offered a mask or may choose to do virtual home learning.

The council has scheduled a virtual meeting for Wednesday at 5 p.m. to discuss how to meet the mask rules.

Other school districts, including Scottsdale Unified, Phoenix Union and Tempe Union, keep their mask requirements in place. Officials at Kyrene Primary School District said they are reviewing the impact of Ducey’s decision and will provide advice later this week.

Medical officials were wary of this decision.

“I can only speculate as to why the Ducey government made this decision, but it is certainly not in line with science or research on the proven effectiveness of masks in reducing the transmission of Covid- 19, “said Dr Lee Ann Kelley, a doctor from Phoenix. and past president of the Maricopa County Medical Society.

“The CDC guidelines – which anyone can read on CDC.gov – are very clear on this point: Children in K-12 schools must wear masks. To my knowledge, the local doctors were not consulted by Gov Ducey. Neither does the superintendent of schools, Kathy Hoffman. Many of us physicians are once again disappointed that the governor is making what should be a medical and scientifically sound decision without any factual basis to back it up. “

Ducey signed an executive order last July that required schools to require face masks, and the Arizona Department of Health Services followed up on an emergency measure in November detailing mask rules for schools.

Arizona Department of Health Services guidelines dated March 29 indicate that schools should use certain mitigation strategies regardless of the level of community transmission, including required masks, physical distance, washing hands, cleaning and contact tracing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s March 19 recommendations, cited in Ducey’s new decree, include “the universal and correct use of masks.”

“All schools should implement and cover prevention strategies and should prioritize the universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing,” the CDC says.

Public health director Dr Cara Christ said in a statement Monday that “our schools are ready to decide on their next steps on masks.”

She said many families had been protected from the disease through vaccination and encouraged all Arizonans to get the vaccine.

Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of public health, said the order should have stayed in place until the end of the school year.

“It’s such a small thing to ask people to do, and it still has a good return on investment,” he said. “There is an advantage in keeping the community under control, there is an advantage that still exists for Title I schools with intergenerational families… and the cost is just to ask children to continue to wear masks. And they’re used to it now.

While it is true that many teachers and professors have received vaccines, he said, he is concerned about low income students with low vaccination rates who may live in multigenerational homes and are now more likely to report COVID-19 to loved ones. .

“I just wish (Ducey) had been more patient and let the school year end with masks,” he said. “While this is a bad decision, it is not far from the scale” of some of the decisions Ducey and Christ made during the pandemic, he said.

The biggest problem with the cancellation of mask requirements in schools is that children under the age of 16 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, said Dr Farshad Fani Marvasti, a physician and associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.

“I would understand that if you could tell me that all school children were fully immunized and you wanted to do something that was optional, that would be a point of discussion. But at this point, none of them are vaccinated, ”he said.

“We know the masks stop the spread. So not only are you putting children and their families at risk, but you are also putting teachers at risk.”

Contact reporter Mary Jo Pitzl at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl. Contact reporter Alison Steinbach at [email protected] or 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

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