PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- State health officials just announced a set of benchmarks they want to see before sending Arizona students back to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, Gov. Doug Ducey, along with top officials from the Arizona Dept. of Health Services and the Arizona Department of Education, came up with a plan called "Roadmap for Reopening Schools," which details how Arizona kids could safely return to in-person learning.
DETAILS OF PLAN
The plan gives details about how kids can make a safe return. The State of Arizona recommends there should be "minimal community spread" to resume in-person schooling. That would be fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 people, less than a 5% positivity rate, and less than 5% cases of COVID-like illness.
The plan also dictates that there are two key components to reopening school buildings for in-person instruction:
Some new benchmarks have been issued that should be met before Arizona students can safely return to in-person learning.
First, is the quality of the school’s mitigation plan, or "how" the school plans to implement strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This plan must be adopted, implemented, and posted on the local education agencies' website before onsite support services may begin.
The second is the level of spread occurring within the community, or the “when”.
State officials say both the school’s individual mitigation plan, as well as the degree of community spread, are equally important in determining when it is safe to reopen a school building. They also add that the level of COVID-19 transmission in the community is an important factor in determining when it is safe to begin in-person instruction.
“The school districts have asked for the flexibility and to work with their local public health departments”," said Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the state's Department of Health Services.
"Right now, we don't have a county that meets all three benchmarks, so it will likely be a couple weeks before we would recommend schools implement a hybrid or in-person learning," said Dr. Christ.
New benchmarks were released that Arizona school districts have to meet before reopening for in-person learning but officials cautioned agains…
"I want to make it very clear that every day Arizona is in any kind of distanced learning mode, it's a huge setback for our state," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.
Hoffman said with unequal access to resources like the internet, especially for rural areas, in-class learning is best for kids. Hence, she hopes communities will work together to hit these benchmarks.
She said even though there's no mandate to follow them, she's talked to teachers who have major concerns if their districts try to force them back when conditions are still unsafe on Aug. 17.
"I have been hearing of many teachers who have said they plan to resign, especially if they're going to be forced into an unsafe teaching environment," said Hoffman.
One Valley mom said she's happy to see the new benchmarks from state health officials.
"It was great that they broke it down by 5%, 7% and 10% so we have a really clear idea of where we need to be and where we're going," said Sarah Sioli, a parent in the Queen Creek Unified School District.
Her concern now is whether or not the Queen Creek Unified School District will commit to following them. Her kids are set to be back in the classroom in less than two weeks.
"If they decide to continue with this Aug. 17 plan, I honestly don’t even know. Our kids love their teachers. They love the district, they love the school. So we don’t want to leave. But I will not send my kids back in the conditions they currently have planned," said Sioli.
Ralph Quintana, a Valley educator and the president of the Arizona Federation of Teachers, said teachers still have a lot of unanswered questions.
"What happens if more than one staff member or teacher goes down? Who’s going to cover the other classes? Because we can’t split kids if we come back. And who’s going to teach the class if I’m on quarantine at home? Am I going to go virtual then form home?" Quintana said.
Maricopa County guidelines
The county health department doesn't believe the state is ready for in-person testing as the positivity rate is above the 5% they recommend.
This comes one day after Maricopa County officials announced their own set of metrics they would want to see before sending students back to classrooms.
On Wednesday, the Maricopa County Health Department said it wanted to see three data points before that happens.
Those data points are:
- A decrease in cases.
- A decline in the number of positive tests
- A percentage of positive tests
"If we had to chose a priority in terms of what’s open and what’s closed, we definitely want to prioritize schools."
The county health department doesn't believe the state is ready for in-person learning as the positivity rate is above the 5% they recommend (The states guideline for this data point is between 5%-10%). They want to see the metrics drop in a two-week span.
Hoffman has said that Arizona is "not currently in a place to resume traditional, in-person instruction."
And several districts apparently agree. On Wednesday night, both the Chandler Unified School District and the Tempe Union High School District announced they would be pushing in-person learning to October.