Ducey, Hoffman extend school closures to April 10

Andrew Nicla//March 20, 2020

Ducey, Hoffman extend school closures to April 10

Andrew Nicla//March 20, 2020

Gov. Doug Ducey answers questions Monday about COVID-19, its effects on the economy and how that could affect the state budget and his call for tax cuts. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey  (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman are extending their closure of Arizona schools by another two weeks, until Friday, April 10, to protect students from the spread of COVID-19.

The two announced this in a video tweeted by Ducey Friday afternoon, in which they read an open letter to state families, educators, school leaders and education community members.

Our goal is to get kids safely back in the classroom as soon as possible while providing parents and educators certainty so they can plan and make decisions,” the two wrote. “We will continue to work together to determine what’s best for Arizona kids and schools in the face of COVID-19.”

This announcement comes five days after the two announced the initial two-week closure, which was set to be lifted March 27. In their letter, the two again urged children to stay at home, where they’re safest, and asked they not be cared for by elderly adults or people with underlying health conditions.

Kathy Hoffman
Kathy Hoffman

The day after the original school closure last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted new guidelines for a 15-day pause that instructed states to assess how prepared they are to combat the spread of the virus, which included institutions that included guidance for schools. Ducey’s spokesman, Patrick Ptak, said based on those guidelines, schools would not be able to open by Monday, March 30, as the original closure called for, so they extended it.

“We were anticipating because of staffing and absences, schools would likely need to be closed beyond that, so we decided not to wait,” Ptak said. “We know families have to plan, they need certainty and we wanted to give them as much certainty as possible so they can make decisions.”

Before the announcement, the Legislature adjourned for the weekend Thursday, delaying the expected signing of Rep. Michelle Udall’s, R-Mesa, school closure bill, HB2910, an emergency measure which would provide assistance during this time.

It provides two paths forward for schools, depending on when the school closures order is lifted. Democrats voted for the bill despite several questions about what isn’t in the bill – guidance for vocational schools,, students with disabilities, and additional funding for online education training..

Ptak said Ducey expects the bill to be on his desk and signed by the end of day Monday.

Hoffman’s Spokesman Richard Taylor said the office has “been in constant communication” with the Governor’s Office and Department of Health Services and said the group made the decision Friday morning after reviewing the CDC guidelines and the risks for students and their communities. Taylor said there wasn’t one thing in particular that convinced them this was the right decision, but rather an accumulation of information that forced their hand into extending the closure.

Because the situation is constantly evolving, Taylor said he does not know if schools will be able to come back come April 10 or if the closure will have to be extended again.

“Things are rapidly changing and when things change, we’ll be prepared to provide further guidance,” Taylor said. “We don’t have a timeline on how often we’ll provide updates.”

Although the letter tells schools to prepare for an eventual opening, Taylor could not say how likely one is or when it would be. “We want to get kids back in school as soon as it’s safe for them to be there,” Taylor said.

Families who can’t find a caretaker for their children who is not elderly are encouraged to reach out to non-profit, faith-based and business entities partnering with the state who are providing child care. Ducey said he expects to sign legislation that will waive requirements related to educational assessments and ensure teachers and school employees continue to get a paycheck.

As Udall’s bill sits in the Legislature, Ducey and Hoffman asked schools to “make every effort” to provide online resources and at-home work for students, for school administrators to work with the Department of Education to provide breakfast and lunch for students who need it and consider expanding child care programs so as to not further stress already burdened healthcare professionals and first responders.

When school eventually resumes, the two said, administrators should develop and enact precautions that include social distancing practices, ensuring proper hygiene of those in school and proper sanitation of frequently touched surfaces and equipment, in order to ensure the health and safety of students.

As of Friday morning, Arizona has identified 78 cases of COVID-19 and has tested 343 people for the virus.

For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Patrick Ptak and Richard Taylor.