PHOENIX - In Arizona, some kids are already back in classrooms, and more will soon return to class.
What makes 2021 different from the average year is that kids are returning to school as COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise.
Parents learning of COVID-19 exposures
A little more than a week was all the time it took for Queen Creek mother Janna Stults to get a letter from Silver Valley Elementary School.
"When I got home at 9 o'clock in the morning, I received a letter from the school that my daughter had been exposed on July 28 to COVID-19," said Stults.
Stults later asked school officials what she should do next
"I did contact the school to clarify, and when I contacted their office, they said it was parent discretion on whether we chose to quarantine, and they also said if they developed symptoms, it was our discretion on whether to keep them home or not," said Stults.
Hedi Kim's daughters, who attend Eduprize in Queen Creek, have experienced COVID-19 symptoms.
"It is really heartbreaking to watch, and I felt when I dropped her off at kindergarten very conflicted. I felt like I was dropping her off in a petri dish after trying so hard for the last year and a half," Kim said.
Some school districts post active COVID-19 case numbers
Queen Creek and Eduprize don't post active COVID-19 cases online, but other school districts do.
Chandler Unified School District officials say Hamilton High School has an ongoing outbreak, with 68 active cases as of July 10. District officials have released a statement, which reads:
"We asked families to help us reduce the spread by discussing with their children hand-washing and sanitizing and keeping them home when they are symptomatic."
For Hamilton, since active cases have eclipsed 1% of the student body, they will increase restrictions, including enforcing social distancing, limiting the sharing of textbooks, holding large group gatherings outside, restricting field trips and visits from parents.
Additionally, any student exposed to someone with COVID-19 within 3 feet for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period will be quarantined. Quarantined students will have access to learning via Google Classroom.
Higley Unified School District officials, meanwhile, say they have 26 cases.
School mask mandate banned by Arizona state government
A provision of the Arizona budget this year outlawed school mask mandates, and the Governor's Office previously told two school districts they couldn't mandate a quarantine period for unvaccinated individuals, even though CDC guidelines recommend it.
On July 14, Gov. Ducey sent letters to Peoria School District and Catalina Foothills School District, stating their policies for unvaccinated students to quarantine for 10 days is against state law.
"Children of parents who choose not to have their children get the COVID-19 vaccine should not be discriminated against for such decisions," read a portion of the letter.
The letter goes on to say that the policy will result in many students being kept at home.
"This policy will lead to entire classrooms of students under 12 being kept at home for nearly two weeks at a tome, and potentially on multiple occasions, with no way to make up for that lost learning time," read a portion of the letter.
Phoenix school district reinstates mask order
On the first day of class at Phoenix Union High School District, masks were required. The school district announced the mask mandate's reinstatement on July 30.
It may be a policy that goes against orders made by the Governor's Office, but the school district's mask mandate is being well-received by some.
"I think it's irresponsible on the Governor's side. I think kids really should go back with masks. There's no problem with wearing a mask right now," said one man.
The Governor's Office previously said Phoenix Union's mask mandate had no teeth, and was unenforcable. However, more schools could join Phoenix Union High School District, as the CDC recently recommended that students and staff in schools should all mask up.
Family medicine doctor voices concerns as cases continue to rise
As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise, some doctors are worried that with more students heading back to class, new case numbers will only rise.
"Even more concerning is I'm seeing adult staff members at the schools coming down with the delta variant, and I know it's the delta variant because these are people who got immunized back in February and March, and they're getting sick, but not sick enough to go to the hospital," said Dr. Andrew Carrol.
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CDC Website for COVID-19
https://espanol.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html (In Spanish/En Español)
AZDHS Website for COVID-19
https://www.azdhs.gov/covid19/es/index.php (In Spanish/En Español)
AZDHS Website for COVID-19 Vaccination
https://www.azdhs.gov/covid19/es/vaccines/index.php (In Spanish/En Español)