Phoenix Union High School District To Require All Students, Staff Wear Masks Despite New Law Banning This

By Rocio Hernandez, Lauren Gilger
Published: Friday, July 30, 2021 - 10:45am
Updated: Monday, August 2, 2021 - 11:10am

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Chad Gestson
Phoenix Union High School District
Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Chad Gestson announced the district's mask mandate on July 30, 2021.

The Phoenix Union High School District has announced it will require all students, staff and visitors wear face coverings when schools start on Monday, Aug. 2, despite a new state law that bans public schools from doing this. 

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This announcement comes after the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers of Disease Control and Prevention both issued recommendations on wearing face coverings at school regardless of vaccination status. The district had aligned its masking practices district-wide with the current law that bans public schools from requiring masks, but it said it recently heard from staff, students and families that wanted to see the district instead realign its mitigation practices with the guidelines and recommendations of national and local health agencies. 

"We serve nearly 30,000 beautiful young men and women and over 4,000 employees and must take every precaution necessary to protect the lives of those entrusted to us," the district said in a statement posted on Twitter Friday. 

All 32 of the ZIP codes in the district's boundaries have high or substantial COVID-19 spread, according to the district. 

“We have no choice but to enforce what medical experts tell us is the way to keep our campuses safe,” said Superintendent Chad Gestson during a Friday press conference. “What legal implications this may have that’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is to educate our kids and to keep our community safe.”

But if a legal battle ensues, Gestson said the Phoenix Union district will be fully prepared to handle that. 

The Governor's Office issued a statement: 

"Gov. Ducey believes the decision by Phoenix Union requiring masks has no teeth. It's not allowed under Arizona law. It's unenforceable.

Arizona is not anti-mask, we’re anti-mask mandate. As the governor has often said, mask usage is up to parents. If a parent wants their child to wear a mask at school, they are free to do so. This is not a state decision. Ultimately, this is about personal responsibility and parental choice — something Arizona has long-supported.

School administrators should be doing everything they can to encourage eligible students and staff to get vaccinated, not break state law.

Health professionals in Arizona and across the country have made it clear: our kids are safe in the classroom. We need to keep students in their classrooms, and the governor wants to ensure there are limited disruptions when it comes to their education. Arizona is not going to mandate masks in any learning environment."

Gestson pushed back and said the district has the local authority to enforce this policy. 

Any students and staff who don’t comply will be dealt with on an individual basis, he said.

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