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All Arizona K-12 schools ordered to close for COVID-19 starting Monday

All K-12 schools will be closed in Arizona for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Doug Ducey and State Schools Supt. Kate Hoffman announced Sunday. The closures begin Monday.

Schools will remain closed at least through March 27.

"Over the past few weeks and in coordination with public health officials, we have been in close communication with school administrators to provide guidance and be a resource as it relates to the recent outbreak of COVID-19" said Ducey. "As more schools announce closures and education administrators express staff shortages within their schools, now is the time to act. A statewide closure is the right thing to do. While this measure will not stop the spread of COVID-19, it will bring certainty and consistency in schools across Arizona."

"The health and safety of all our students is our top priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep our school doors open — schools provide important services and many families rely on them for nutrition, access to health care and in order to do their own jobs," said Hoffman, the state superintendent of Public Instruction. "I am in close contact with school superintendents, teachers, and parents and will continue working closely in partnership with schools to ensure that our families needs are met."

"The safest place for children during this time is at home," Ducey and Hoffman wrote. "They should not be cared for by elderly adults or those with underlying health conditions, including grandparents and other family members."

The closure affects all public district schools and charter schools in the state. The order does not apply to private schools or daycare centers, which are not directly regulated by the Arizona Department of Education.

The move by Ducey came after Arizona's main teachers union called for all students, regardless of any announced closure, to stay home over concerns about the viral outbreak.

The governors of at least 28 states — Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana,Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Vermont, Washington state, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — have ordered the closure of all schools, with more than 30 million students affected. Some districts in New York, California and elsewhere have also shut down because of COVID-19.

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About 1,125,000 students attend publicly funded K-12 schools in Arizona. About 923,000 of them attend one of more than 2,000 district public schools, with the rest attending one of more than 700 charter schools in the state.

From a joint statement by Ducey and Hoffman:

The Governor's Office and the Department of Education are working to implement directives to minimize the impact of the closure for Arizona kids during the closure, including access to healthcare and nutritional meals, and sanitary precautions schools can take upon reopening of schools. These directives include:

  • School administrators should make every effort to provide continued education learning opportunities through online resources or materials that can be sent home.
  • School administrators should develop a plan to continue breakfast and lunch services for Arizona students.
  • As demand rises on healthcare professionals and first responders, schools should expand child care programs currently available to ensure minimal disruption to these critical jobs as a result of the school closure.
  • When school resumes, school administrators should develop and implement precautions to ensure schools are a safe learning environment, including social distancing measures, regular intervals for administrators to wash and sanitize their hands, and guidance on how to properly and frequently sanitize election equipment and common surfaces.

Additionally, Governor Ducey and Superintendent Hoffman are committed to working together to minimize the impact of these closures. Including:

  • Working to ensure that any student who receives free and reduced-price meals will continue to be able to access those meals. The State is working with USDA to allow schools to begin summer food service operations and provide boxed meals as needed.
  • Educating parents on recommendations from public health officials for kids who are not at school to remain at home to the greatest extent possible. For families for whom that's not an option, the State is coordinating with partners in the non-profit, faith-based and education communities to make available childcare options to families who need it.
  • Working together to make sure dedicated school employees don't see any disruption to their pay, and consulting with school district and legislative partners to determine the extent of any potential makeup days.
  • Engaging federal partners to secure a waiver related to the statewide testing that provides flexibility for Arizona.
  • Engaging with our federal partners in the event that we need to secure a waiver related to statewide testing that provides flexibility and makes sense for Arizona.

"We will continue to work together and assess this situation on a 24/7 basis," the two wrote in their letter.

Earlier, school leaders said the state must plan for a "longterm inevitable shutdown" of schools in the state, with the state teachers union calling for a student strike if plans are not announced. The University of Arizona joined Pima Community College and the other state universities in halting in-person classes and moving online.

"A long-term closure of schools in Arizona is inevitable" due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said a group of school superintendents, including TUSD's Gabriel Trujillo, asking for the state to adopt a "clear plan" for budget and educational impacts of the virus.

The Tucson Unified School District chief joined more than 50 other K-12 leaders from around the state in asking officials to respond to "essential recommendations that will be necessary for Arizona — our students, our school systems, our communities, and our economy — to survive the unavoidable shutdown."

Noting that several districts and charter schools have already closed, Trujillo and the others said "the remaining will soon be forced to do the same." With guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control recommending school closures for the coronavirus outbreak run 8-20 weeks, a plan is necessary, they said.

The state teachers union said Sunday, before the closure announcement, that students should stay home from school until Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona education and political leaders "can present a detailed plan that assures students will be returning to safe classrooms" during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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The Arizona Education Association sent a letter to Ducey on Sunday, calling for "students to remain home" and for the governor to call a special session of the Legislature "to swiftly and directly address this unanticipated crisis."

Ducey and Hoffman wrote that:

Efforts are underway to ensure that any child has access to meals while schools are closed. We have also worked with USDA to allow schools to begin summer food service operations and provide boxed meals as needed. Your local school will have more information about how and where to access meals.

We understand many parents have questions about childcare options. It is the recommendation of public health officials that kids who are not at school remain at home to the greatest extent possible. For families for whom that's not an option, we are coordinating with partners in the non-profit, faith-based and education communities to make available childcare options to families who need it.

For our dedicated school employees, we're working together to make sure you don't see any disruption to your pay. We'll also be consulting with our district and legislative partners to determine the extent of any potential makeup days.

3rd Pima County coronavirus case confirmed

A third person in Pima County has been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, officials said Sunday morning.

The person, described as an "older adult," is recovering in an area hospital, officials said.

As of Sunday morning, Arizona state health officials report 12 other positive cases, mostly in Maricopa and Pinal counties.

As of Sunday morning, 183 people in Arizona have been tested for COVID-19 — the novel coronavirus that was first diagnosed in people late last year — with 12 confirmed positive cases and and the new "presumptive positive" Pima case the only ones in the state. Another 50 tests were pending results, and 121 people have been ruled out, officials said.

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