State and Maricopa County officials lay out guidelines for school reopening amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

Arizona education officials, as well as officials in Maricopa County, have talked about the issue of returning to class amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

State Supt. Hoffman: Schools should reopen based on metrics

Schools should be empowered to reopen their campuses this fall based on public health data rather than aiming for a particular date, Arizona’s top education official said July 21.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said she outlined her priorities to Gov. Doug Ducey, who is expected to announce the next steps for schools this week. He has previously delayed the start of the school year until Aug. 17.

Hoffman outlined several metrics she said would be helpful to school officials deciding when to welcome children back on campus. They include a downward trajectory in new confirmed COVID-19 cases, a decrease in the rate of positive test results and the widespread availability of testing with timely results.

Students call for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to delay schools reopening

An Arizona student helped to make a video hoping to get the attention of Gov. Doug Ducey asking him to delay schools reopening. She says going back to school so soon during the pandemic not only puts her at risk, but her grandmother at risk as well.

Schools also need a guarantee of full funding for distance learning, she added.

“Like all educators, I want students back in the classroom because that’s the best place for learning and growing,” Hoffman wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “However, we cannot ask schools to make decisions that will impact the teachers’ and students’ health and safety without first providing them with the necessary public health data and funding to make safe decisions.”

Ducey and his top health official, Dr. Cara Christ, said last week that they would prefer for their own children to be in school on campus.

Maricopa County releases separate guidelines for schools

On July 22, officials in Maricopa County released its own guidelines for schools, as they scramble to reopen safely and effectively in the fall.

The guidelines include a risk scale on activities like lunch and recess, as well as what to do if a student or teacher gets sick.

"Shutting down the school will be based on the individual circumstances, including the percentage of students are absent and are showing symptoms, and what kind of exposure there is in the community on a case-by-case basis," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Medical Director for Disease Control with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Officials are also warning schools that older kids seem to spread the virus more than the younger ones.

"Kids 10 to 18 have a higher rate of transmission in their household, so that makes kids go into different categories," said Dr. Sunenshine.

County officials also showed off their protective equipment starter kit, containing masks, gloves and gowns that are given to schools that need it.

The county's health director agreed that criteria, such as community spread, the percentage of positive test results, and turnaround time for test results, is more important in deciding when a school should welcome back students, rather than a hard and fast date.

Meanwhile, Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to have another update on school reopening.

School district officials react to new normal

Some school district officials are making up their own mind when it comes to in-class lessons, with Madison School District officials pushing back in-class sessions until at least October.

"We are looking at all the guidelines from the CDC in the state. We are also taking the advice of our parents and doctors regarding this along the way," said Nicole Rodriguez with the Madison School District.

In the end, each district has to come up with its own answers.

"We know the best place to learn is in the classroom, and we want that to happen as soon and safely as we can for our students," said Rodriguez.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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LIST: Arizona districts announce return to school plans

The governor's order on June 29 delays in-person instruction until at least August 17, but that doesn't mean classes won't start sooner.

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