Arizona Schools To Close For At Least 2 Weeks Amid Coronavirus Concerns

By Scott Bourque, Mark Brodie
Associated Press
Published: Sunday, March 15, 2020 - 4:23pm
Updated: Monday, March 16, 2020 - 1:08pm
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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and state Superintendent Kathy Hoffman announced Sunday afternoon that all schools in Arizona will be closed at least until March 27.

This move comes after a growing list of schools and school districts announced closures in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Ducey and Hoffman faced growing pressure from parents, and on Sunday the state's teachers union called for students to stay home. Public health authorities did not recommend school closures, saying keeping them open allows children to maintain routines and nutritional programs. Still, a growing number of districts made their own decisions to close or extend their spring breaks.

Ducey and Hoffman said they worked hard to keep schools open, but many districts are now worried about staffing and potential absences. They urged administrators to continue remote educational opportunities, such as online or printed materials sent home, as much as possible.

“This decision is not made lightly, but it’s the right thing to do to bring certainty and consistency to all Arizona schools,” Ducey said. “With schools closing, we’re working together to provide assistance during this time and lessen the impact on all Arizona families.”

Students who rely on school lunches will have options, according to Hoffman. In the video, she said her office was working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help schools begin summer meal service and provide boxed meals. Hoffman says to check with individual districts for more information.

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“The safest place for children during this time is at home,” they wrote in an open letter. “They should not be cared for by elderly adults or those with underlying health conditions, including grandparents and other family members.”

They said they're working with nonprofits, religious institutions and others to make childcare options available to those who need them.

Hours before the announcement Sunday, the state's largest teachers union said it would like to see students stay home from school “until education leaders and state policymakers can present a detailed plan of support that assures students will be returning to safe classrooms and healthy school sites.”

The Arizona Education Association also urged Ducey “to exercise all the powers of his office including convening the Legislature in Special Session to swiftly and directly address this unanticipated crisis.”

Meanwhile, public health officials on Sunday said Arizona had another case of the coronavirus, raising the state's total to 13.

The Pima County Health Department announced its third presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in Pima County.

They said the person is an older adult currently recovering in a Tucson-area hospital.

Health department officials said it was the first positive test result in Pima County as a result of commercial testing performed at a private laboratory.

Arizona announced three new cases of the coronavirus Saturday including the first in rural Graham County where a town's school district had already shut down before test results were available on a school employee who now has tested positive.

Graham County health officials asked the Pima district's fifth- and sixth-graders to remain at home until March 25 and to stay away from others.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Though state officials have said there was no need to shut down schools statewide, multiple districts in metro Phoenix have announced closures, including some that take effect Monday when those districts' schools would have reopened after spring break.

Ducey on Wednesday declared a public health emergency because of the risk of increased transmission of coronavirus in the state. He stopped short of ordering large events to be cancelled as some other governors have done.

Although there are no confirmed coronavirus cases in Maricopa County’s jail system, Sheriff Paul Penzone said Sunday that access to jail facilities for volunteer or supplemental services now is suspended.

The only access into jails will be for court ordered interactions or legal obligations.

Penzone said the move was made “as a precautionary measure to protect our officers, staff and the incarcerated population.”

Meanwhile, the Pinal County Fair scheduled for this week has been canceled due to precautions about the coronavirus pandemic. It was scheduled to run from next Wednesday through Sunday.

Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations at the Arizona School Boards Association, joined The Show on Monday to talk about the implications for schools at this uncertain time.

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