Arizona Department Of Health Services Emergency Measure Reinforces Mask Mandate At Schools

Published: Friday, November 20, 2020 - 3:32pm
Updated: Monday, November 23, 2020 - 11:49am
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This week, the Arizona Department of Health Services issued an emergency measure requiring masks at schools that reinforces a similar July executive order by Gov. Doug Ducey.

Ducey’s executive order had required school districts and charters to develop and implement policies that require face masks for all staff and students under the age of 5. The new measure adds contractors and visitors to this list and includes an enforcement provision. 

“This emergency measure issued by ADHS addresses the serious threat COVID-19 poses to our communities," Ducey said at a Wednesday press conference. "It requires schools to implement the simple step of mask-wearing to reduce transmission and keep our kids safe.”

It specifies that masks should be worn on school campuses, school buses and during school-associated activities including athletics. And like the executive order, it makes exceptions for instances when students are outside and socially distanced.

Many districts already have implemented policies with similar language, but the Arizona Department of Education has heard that these policies were not uniform across the state or that enforcement was lax, it said in a statement. There was also some confusion on whether masks were required on school buses under Ducey’s July executive order. 

“This new policy makes clear what is expected regarding masks on school property,” the department said in a statement. 

But not everyone thought the measure made significant changes. 

“I’m torn between trying to decipher if the governor’s trying to make it look like they're doing something new or if they are just doubling down on something that has worked," said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association. 

"The announcement does nothing and changes nothing for school boards and decisions they have to make for school districts," the Arizona School Boards Association said in a statement. 

While educators are in support of a mask mandate in school, Thomas said this doesn't go far enough. 

“That only protects students while they’re at school," he said. "We need to have the same thing when they’re out in their communities as well.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman has also expressed support for a statewide mask mandate as well as testing and quarantine requirements for seasonal residents. 

Ducey did not indicate support for such actions at the recent press conference, but did announced that the state will be adding COVID-19 testing sites in airport, but testing is optional. 

The governor also announced that the state will soon distribute $370 million to school districts and charters. The funding was announced in July as part of the governor's Arizona Open for Learning Plan, which allows school districts and charters to get at least 98% of the funding they got based on last year's enrollment numbers.

This money could be crucial in some for some schools, since preliminary numbers from the Arizona Department of Education show that statewide enrollment is about 4% lower than this time last year. Districts and charters will be able to use the money to pay for teacher salaries, distance learning expenses, technology, enhanced sanitation and personal protective equipment.

The governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting will verify whether the schools have met the criteria, such as providing in-person support for students, conducting benchmark testing and completing financial reporting before they release the funding.

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