Arizona Department Of Health Services Suddenly Changes Recommendations For Schools As COVID-19 Cases Rise

Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 2:52pm
Updated: Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 11:55am
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The Arizona Department of Health Services has updated its guidance on when schools should pull back from in-person instruction.

Under its latest version of the "Safely Returning to In-Person Instruction" document, the department says school leaders should prepare to transition to virtual learning if their county’s three COVID-19 benchmarks are in the red. Previous guidance issued in August only required one benchmark in the red. 

This change comes as Arizona is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases. Many first learned about the change through a Tuesday media report

“There are board members who already feel like this is intended to leverage them into staying open because they are under constant pressure to, you know, open the schools by a certain group of people, a certain group of parents," said Chris Kotterman, the Arizona School Boards Association's director of governmental relations. 

The decision to update this guidance was based on concerns the department heard about the instability that would occur if recommendations to move back to virtual learning were based on a change in one benchmark. 

"Especially in smaller, rural counties, an increase in just two or three cases would result in a significant increase in the rates of COVID-19 or a change in the percent positivity that may shift a school from hybrid instruction to virtual instruction," said the department's Director Dr. Cara Christ in a Wednesday blog post. "This variability could cause weekly shifts in educational delivery model recommendations, resulting in uncertainty for families and schools as they plan for upcoming weeks."

The guidance is only a recommendation, and as such school districts are free to decided what's best for their communities, Kotterman said. 

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