TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Gov. Doug Ducey Monday rescinded an executive order that directed all K-12 schools in Arizona to require masks for students and staff, despite CDC guidance to the contrary.
The governor first issued the order in July, requiring all schools to "develop face covering policies." Now, with rising vaccination numbers and a lower transmission rate, Ducey says schools can decide for themselves whether to keep those policies in place.
"Teachers, families and students have acted responsibly to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect one another, and our school leaders are ready to decide if masks should be required on their campuses. We will continue to work with public health professionals and Arizona’s schools as more students return to the classroom and our state moves forward," Ducey said in the news release.
The governor's office says the decision to rescind the mask mandate in schools "aligns with CDC guidance," but the CDC's Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools says just the opposite.
"Universal and correct use of masks should be required" at schools providing in-person instruction, the guidelines state, in addition to social distancing and other mitigation measures.
When asked about the discrepancy, a spokesperson for the governor says rescinding the mask mandate "ensures schools are able to make their own decisions around mask requirements, depending on the needs of their community, in alignment with CDC guidance." C.J. Karamargin, communications director for Gov. Doug Ducey, also cited the governor's decision to give teachers priority for vaccination and low transmission rates among youth.
Arizona State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman criticized the governor's decision in a statement Monday afternoon, noting that most students won't be able to get the vaccine for some time.
"Children under 16 are still ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines and the CDC still recommends universal masking in public schools to ensure safe learning environments," she said in the statement. "Universal masking - along with other key mitigation strategies - has allowed schools to operate safely in a pandemic."
So far, at least four school districts in the Tucson area said they would continue requiring masks. Here's what they said when reached for comment about the governor's decision:
Tucson Unified School District:
"The Tucson Unified School District will not be changing its requirement for Face Masks/ Face coverings at our schools and on our properties. This is in response to Governor Ducey’s rescinding of a section of Executive Order 2020-51, issued by the Governor in July directing schools to require face masks [nam04.safelinks.protection.outlook.com], and Emergency Measure 2020-04, issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) outlining requirements for mask usage in schools."
Marana Unified School District:
"Today, Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services rescinded orders that direct K-12 schools to require masks. It is important to note that the Governor’s press release states that K-12 school districts still maintain the right to institute and enforce policies to mitigate against COVID-19 spread, including the use of masks.
MUSD will continue to follow all mitigation strategies currently set in place, and the use of face coverings is a top mitigation strategy for safe in-person learning. Per MUSD policy, face coverings must be worn on all MUSD school campuses and district offices, on school buses and during school-associated activities by all students, faculty, staff, contractors, and visitors."
Amphitheater Unified School District:
"Today, Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded a portion of an Executive Order (2020-51 [azgovernor.gov]) that directed schools to require face coverings. The Governor’s action also applies to an Emergency Measure (2020-04) the Arizona Department of Health Services had issued outlining requirements for face coverings in school.
With today’s action, Gov. Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ have given K-12 school districts the right to institute and enforce policies on their own to mitigate against COVID-19 spread, including the use of face coverings.
Amphitheater Public Schools has made the decision to maintain its face covering requirement for students, staff and visitors to Amphitheater Public Schools at least through the end of the school year. Face coverings are one of many important strategies in the mitigation plan the District developed over the past year to keep our schools safe.
The District appreciates your continued support of students, families and staff, and we look forward to finishing this school year strong and healthy."
Sunnyside Unified School District released a statement on Twitter:
SUSD will continue to follow the health and safety recommendations set forth by the CDC which include universal masking in schools to ensure safe learning environments.— Sunnyside Unified School District (@sunnysideusd) April 20, 2021
Thank you for helping to make SUSD a safe and healthy learning environment for all.