Amid COVID-19 surge, Arizona Republicans call on Gov. Ducey to punish school districts with mask mandates

On Wednesday, dozens of Arizona Republican lawmakers called on the governor publicly to reprimand state school districts for enacting COVID-19 guidelines that they say showcase a "refusal to follow state law."

26 of the 47 Republicans in the Legislature want GOP Gov. Doug Ducey to initiate legal action and withhold federal education funds from school districts imposing mask mandates in violation of a provision in the state budget that does not take effect until Sept. 29. They also want Ducey to award temporary private school vouchers to parents of students attending schools requiring masks.

Arizona Representative Jake Hoffman, along with 25 Republican lawmakers, issued the following statement on Aug. 11, saying in part: 

Under Arizona’s constitutional form of government, local governments do not have the authority or power to usurp state law simply because they disagree, yet that is precisely the kind of illegal activity in which many local governments are presently engaged. The Arizona legislature, with the Governor concurring, very intentionally enacted the laws at hand to protect Arizonans and Arizona children from the threat of government mandating them to wear a mask or be injected with a vaccine. Additionally, the legislature very thoughtfully attached a retroactivity clause to the law, so that there would be clear and consistent application of the statute for families and children throughout Arizona.

The statement likens the willful refusal to follow state law by local governments to bordering on "anarchy."

"Any local government that willfully and intentionally flaunts state law must be held accountable," the statement went on to read.

The state budget bans K-12 schools from requiring students to wear masks and will be retroactive to July 1 once the law takes effect. But at least 10 public school districts are openly defying that law, with school boards saying they are acting to protect children. Outbreaks of the virus have forced multiple school districts to either close classrooms or order children to quarantine.

"We sincerely appreciate the Governor’s conversations with us over the last few days and hope to see that result in swift action; however, the window to hold the rogue local governments refusing to follow state law accountable is closing and the people of Arizona’s patience is running short," the statement continued.

Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the governor’s office has not yet reviewed the GOP lawmakers’ request but has been discussing how to address school districts that require masks, which he opposes. He has called the school actions unenforceable.

"The governor is anti-mandate, but pro-vaccine and pro-parental decision on masks and other measures," Karamargin said. "Parents should decide what’s best for their kids, and those are the kind of policies he will be supporting."

List of Arizona Republican lawmakers who call on Gov. Doug Ducey to reprimand school districts who they say are in violation of state law with mask and COVID-19 protocols.

List of Arizona Republican lawmakers who call on Gov. Doug Ducey to reprimand school districts who they say are in violation of state law with mask and COVID-19 protocols.

Below is a complete list of the lawmakers' requests to Ducey:

  1. Withhold the federal funding currently under the Governor’s management from any school district that is non-compliant with state law.
  2. Authorize temporary Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) for all students trapped within any school district that is non-compliant with state law.
  3. Send a notice to all families within the boundaries of a school district that is non-compliant with state law empowering them with the following information: (A) The retroactive June 30, 2021 effective date of the law prohibiting mask mandates. (B) The availability of the newly authorized temporary Empower Scholarship Accounts (item #2 above) and how to take advantage of them. (C) The abundance of school choice options afforded to them by state law including, but not limited to, public school open enrollment, public school out of boundary enrollment, public charter school enrollment, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, micro-schools, learning pods, STO scholarships, online curriculum, and home school opportunities.
  4. Initiate legal action against any school district that is non-compliant with state law.

The statement is signed by the following lawmakers:

Representative Jake Hoffman

Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham

House Majority Whip Leo Biasiucci

Representative Brenda Barton

Representative Walt Blackman

Representative Shawnna Bolick

Representative Judy Burges

Representative Joseph Chaplik

Representative John Fillmore

Representative Mark Finchem

Representative Steve Kaiser

Representative Quang Nguyen

Representative Becky Nutt

Representative Jacqueline Parker

Representative Beverly Pingerelli

Representative Bret Roberts

Representative Justin Wilmeth

Senate Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli

Senator Nancy Barto

Senator Sine Kerr

Senator David Livingston

Senator J.D. Mesnard

Senator Warren Petersen

Senator Wendy Rogers

Senator Kelly Townsend

Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita

Read the full statement here.

Mask mandates and school funding threatened

An Arizona law that will go into effect on Sept. 29 will prohibit local governments to put a mask mandate into effect, but some parents believe masks should be required in schools.

Other parents say they don’t want them.

Ducey’s office released a statement saying the governor is not supportive of mandates, and some parents think that's the right move.

"He will be leaving masks to be optional and I believe that to be a good direction to go because it is a law and schools are supposed to be there to be a good example to follow the law," said Alysia Smalling, a parent.

Parent Dr. Jacqueline Carter, also a pediatrician, says she has seen the effects of COVID-19 first hand and wants the school district to put mask mandates in place.

"It is all about having freedom of choice and by doing that, they are not giving school districts the freedom of choice to make safety decisions. This is a public health issue. It should be up to public schools to make this decision," she said.

State Democratic lawmakers respond

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, say the mandate ban passed by Republican lawmakers is unconstitutional.

"All school districts should do what is in the best interest of their students," said State Rep. Lorenzo Sierra. "People who are on the front line of educating our children know what keeps our children safe. Those are the people we need to listen to at this time, and right now, they are screaming at the top of their lungs that they do not want this prohibition."

State Rep. Sierra survived COVID-19. He, along with other Democrats, say the new law is unacceptable.

"What I hope is the Governor takes the proactive step creating a new emergency order and rescinding this particular law," said State Rep Sierra.

We have reached out to Republican lawmakers for several days, but they have yet to respond.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

LIST: Arizona school districts with mask requirements

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