Arizona Gov. Ducey: Schools Must Start Offering In-Person Classes By March 15
Gov. Doug Ducey has issued an executive order that requires Arizona schools offer in-person learning later this month.
Under the order, schools must start in-person learning by March 15 or after their spring breaks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous health officials have said it’s safe for kids to be back in classrooms, and the state has prioritized teachers in its vaccine distribution, Ducey said in a Tuesday press release announcing the order.
"The science is clear: It’s time all kids have the option to return to school so they can get back on track and we can close the achievement gap," he said.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman is in support of safely reopening schools with layered mitigation strategies, but said the timing of this announcement will make it challenging for some schools that had already planned to start in-person instruction at later dates due to their local community circumstances.
“As a state, we should be collaborating to provide as much preparation and planning time as possible ahead of significant changes to school operations,” Hoffman said in a statement. “To achieve stability for our school communities, it’s necessary to provide them with adequate time to inform and ready their staff, students and families.”
Exceptions will be made for middle and high schools located in counties with high COVID-19 transmission as defined by the CDC. Currently that includes Coconino, Yavapai and Pinal counties.
More than half of Arizona schools were already offering some kind of in-person option prior to this announcement.
Students who have opted for distance learning can continue to stay in that learning mode, the press release said.
‘We're Not Prepared’
The executive order has left officials like Michael Robert, superintendent of Osborn School District in Phoenix blindsided.
“We’re not prepared for this announcement in the least bit,” he said.
The Osborn district had planned to resume in-person instruction on March 30. The plan there had been to start in-person learning at the end of the month with layered mitigation strategies. But this executive order has moved up the timeline, and might even lead to staff working through spring break to get as much as they can ready.
“This is forcing me to go out and tell my entire community we need to bring you back, we’ve told you everything that we needed to do and how much time it was going to require and now we are going to rush to get it done earlier,” Robert said. “What type of feeling do you think that gives our community about our preparedness?”
His district serves about 2,600 preschool through eighth-grade students. About 60% have signed up for in-person classes.
Marisol Garcia, vice president of Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union was confused by order after Ducey has largely left decisions on reopenings and mitigation strategies to local school boards.
“It’s disruptive. It causes another layer of anxiety,” she said. “It’s unnecessary because most school districts and teachers were preparing to enter the classrooms within the next few weeks.”
Robert thinks the order is “completely disrespectful” because it doesn’t take into account the work that districts like his are doing and assumes they’re teaching remotely by choice.