AZ Education Leaders, Physicians Continue Calls For Safe School Reopenings

Published: Tuesday, July 28, 2020 - 6:16pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 29, 2020 - 9:11am
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Allison Ewers
Devin Del Palacio and Beth Lewis are part of a group of educators and physicians calling on the state to take further action on school reopenings in a July 28, 2020, press conference.

School leaders are waiting on to state the release public health benchmarks that are suppose to help them decide when they will reopen their schools, but a group of educators and physicians say that's not enough. 

The group held a press conference Tuesday where it called on the state to release the benchmarks sooner and make them requirements. 

"At this point, the benchmarks that are being set, it’s clearly communicated that they're recommendations," said Beth Lewis, a Tempe teacher and the co-founder of Save Our Schools Arizona education advocacy group. "They are not mandates and that is unsafe for our kids.” 

She's referring to language in Gov. Doug Ducey's latest executive order which asks school district and charter school leaders to consider the recommendations when making their decisions. 

"Superintendents have asked for the tools and flexibility to be able to make data-informed decisions that are best for their students and families," said Ducey's spokesman Patrick Ptak. "We are providing those resources and trust Arizona's local education leaders."

He said the state is hoping to release the benchmarks before Aug. 7, the deadline set in the executive order. 

But the physicians who have joined educators in their calls for more state leadership aren't waiting until next month to provide school leaders with the information they need to guide their reopening plans. The physicians have developed and released their own benchmarks and recommendations. 

The benchmarks include: 

  • Adequate testing: viral PCR testing with positivity rate of <5%
  • Testing resources should be accessible to students and staff, available same-day and for all age groups
  • Less invasive methods preferred for pediatric population — saliva or finger-poke testing
  • Need rapid turnaround of results (within 24 hours)
  • Widespread detailed contact tracing: able to reach contacts within 24 hrs of individual’s positive result. 
  • Consistent downward trajectory of cases over a 28-day period with 7-day running averages
  • Adequate hospital beds and staffing: able to treat all patients without crisis/surge capacity 
  • Adequate personal protective equipment/supplies for all educators and staff members
  • Clear guideline of educational and isolation expectations when a student or staff member becomes positive, as well as being exposed outside of school

“We do not need to wait till Aug. 7. We have the information. It’s been already disseminated by the CDC, by the World Health Organization, by other leaders and epidemiology that we can take from," said Dionne Mills, a Phoenix OB-GYN who helped work on the document. 

“We made the time to get the document out there because we know that time is of the essence and we just wish that the people who are actually getting paid to do this would treat it the same way," Mills said. 

It also includes recommendations such as what to do when students can't wear masks and what to do if someone in the school contracts the virus. 

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