Coronavirus Concerns Spur Some Arizona Schools To Plan Closures

Published: Friday, March 13, 2020 - 6:38am
Updated: Friday, March 13, 2020 - 1:28pm
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List Of Confirmed School Closures

Despite state officials saying Arizona public schools to remain open, at least five districts in metro Phoenix have announced that they would shut down because of the new coronavirus.

Phoenix-area districts that late Thursday announced closures included the Alhambra, Cartwright, Kyrene, Osborn and Tempe elementary districts.

Widespread shutdowns were not necessary at this point because there isn't a broad spread of the virus, said Jessica Rigler, assistant director at the state Department of Health Services. The state has reported nine cases of the coronavirus.

But schools were still taking steps to keep kids out of classrooms. The Alhambra district in west Phoenix and Glendale is on spring break but announced it won’t reopen Monday and remain closed indefinitely. The district has 15 schools and has more than 14,000 students.

The Cartwright district is also on spring recess and announced it was closing indefinitely starting Monday. The district has 21 schools teaching more than 17,000 students in west Phoenix’s Maryvale community.

Schools in a town in rural southeastern Arizona were closed Thursday while health officials determine whether students had been exposed to the coronavirus.

The Kyrene district in south Phoenix and parts of Tempe, Chandler, Guadalupe and the Gila River Indian Reservation is also shutting its 25 schools to avoid spread of the virus. The district has 16,500 students.

The Osborn district in central Phoenix said it will close Monday for at least two weeks. The district has 3,000 students and five schools.

The Tempe district, also currently on spring break, said it would close beginning Monday until further notice.

Rigler said the COVID-19 virus doesn't affect children in the same way as older adults, who can get severe symptoms. Schools provide lots of other services, such as free and reduced price lunches and stability for children.

Larger public health challenges were also dictating the state's decision against widespread shutdowns, Rigler said.

“When you close down school, unless parents are able to stay home with their children, which takes them out of the work force, those children are just cohorted somewhere else together because they need child care,” Rigler said.

State officials were encouraging keeping schools clean, recommending frequent washing of hands and sending students and staff home if they are sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

The Pima Unified School District announced Wednesday night there was a report that an unspecified number of elementary school students were possibly exposed to “”to an unknown illness."

The Pima district said Friday the possible exposure involved a staff member and that it awaited test results.

The district serves the town of Pima and two smaller communities in Graham County. The district's website says the district's has one high school, a junior high school and an elementary school and approximately 1,000 students. Pima is 79 miles northeast of Tucson.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman held a call with school superintendents statewide Thursday.

Meanwhile, Northern Arizona University joined Arizona State University and the University of Arizona on Thursday in moving all classroom instruction online. NAU announced that the transition will begin March 23 after spring break and last at least two weeks. However, campus facilities will remain open.

On the Navajo Nation, Diné College is extending spring break for another week with students returning to classes on March 23. The college will use the extra week to begin transferring some classes to online, administrators said.

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