The state’s top school official wants Gov. Doug Ducey to keep schools closed to in-person learning for two weeks following the explosion of COVID-19 cases in the state.
“Given the severity of our state’s situation and the virus’s trajectory after the holiday period, Gov. Doug Ducey should order schools to remain in distance learning for a limited two-week period,’’ Kathy Hoffman said over the weekend, telling Capitol Media Services that opening schools immediately after the holidays is “reckless.’’
But an aide to the governor said he has no interest in doing that.
“Gov. Ducey will not be considering this request or issuing this kind of mandate,’’ said spokesman C.J. Karamargin.
Karamargin said there is no need for such the governor to take action.
“This is a local decision,’’ Karamargin said, with online learning already an option for those districts that want to offer it.
And even if it were not, he said that Ducey doesn’t think that keeping schools closed any longer makes sense.
“The governor has repeatedly made his preference clear: Kids have already lost out on a lot of learning and he wants schools opened, safely,’’ Karamargin said.
Hoffman told Capitol Media Services the two-week period she is suggesting is designed to coincide with a standard quarantine period after people may have been exposed.
And she said she understands that nothing in either state law or gubernatorial guidance precludes a local school board from unilaterally extending online learning for another two weeks.
But the schools chief said a broader mandate is appropriate.
“We’re coming back from the holidays and cases are through the roof,’’ Hoffman said. “Right now it seems reckless for any schools to be offering in-person instruction.’’
Hoffman said it’s not like she proposing that schools remain shuttered for some indefinite period, even with the spike in cases.
“It’s just for two weeks,’’ she said. And Hoffman said that schools still are generally required to provide a safe place for students during the day, even if all learning is remote.
“Our teachers who are being asked to go teach in person despite the very high risk and high spread of COVID in the community are very fearful because they’re worried because if they get sick are they going to be able to get care in a medical facility,’’ Hoffman said.
The schools chief noted there is another reason that a delay may help stop the spread.
She pointed out that the priority that state health officials have set for who gets the vaccine puts teachers and school staff into the 1-B category, second behind health care workers and staffers in long-term care facilities.
That 1-B category also includes child-care workers, public safety personnel and those age 75 and older.
State health officials have said they hope to begin administering to those in the 1-B category this month, though for the moment that will include only the first of what needs to be a two-shot regimen.
But there is believed to be some protection offered from just that first inoculation.