Arizona school board imposes gag rule for vaccines, masks

Employees in a northwestern Arizona school district cannot discuss vaccination status or mask-wearing with students under a motion approved unanimously by the local school board.

The edict from the Colorado River Union High School District Governing Board carries no repercussions for administrators, staff, and teachers who violate it. That would be up to Superintendent Monte Silk, who supported the motion.

School districts across Arizona have taken varied approaches to mask mandates, with some defying state law to impose them and offering opt-out options. 

At least 26 school districts in the state have enacted their own mask mandates, even as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has tried to prevent them and threatened schools with a loss of funding.

Those districts account for nearly 300,000 students and 450 schools, mostly around Phoenix and Tucson.

LIST: Arizona school districts with mask requirements

The Colorado River Union High School District’s gag rule, however, is rare.

Board member Ashley Gerich, who calls herself a "non-vaxxer," requested the item be put on the board’s agenda this week. She said a couple of students, including her daughter, told her conversations about the vaccine made them feel uncomfortable, the Mohave Daily News reported.

"Regardless of your own personal views and beliefs, you shouldn’t be forcing them on impressionable children or teenagers, adolescents," she said during a meeting on August 17. "I think that’s their parents’ job and right to be able to say whether they want their child to be vaccinated or not."

Fellow board member Carey Fearing said neither vaccines nor masks should be discussed during school hours and suggested teachers talk with students about things that pertain only to classroom learning. The board oversees schools in Bullhead City and Mohave Valley. Its president is a local surgeon.

Ducey defended his decision to block federal COVID-19 relief funding for schools that require masks, saying he believes he’s on solid legal ground and is empowering parents to make decisions.

"I want parents to do what they think is the right thing to do. Anyone that wants to wear a mask is supported in wearing that mask," Ducey told reporters on Thursday.

The state Department of Health Services reported 3,546 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and four more deaths Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 976,471 cases and 18,508 deaths since the pandemic began.

More than half of Arizona’s population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Hospitalizations due to the virus continue to climb and were at 1,837 as of Wednesday. That’s the highest number since mid-February.

MORE: Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers


In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

More COVID-19 in Arizona news

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