PHOENIX — The use of federal COVID-19 funds to persuade Arizona public and charter schools to avoid mask mandates is putting Governor Doug Ducey at odds with the U.S. Treasury Department.
The governor says he is more concerned with students getting caught up in school than he is with them wearing masks. But Treasury says public and charter schools that take steps to contain the spread and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 are eligible for the $163-million in COVID-19 relief funds available to Arizona schools.
Students who attend the Osborn School District wear masks, while students in the Chandler Unified School District don’t have to wear them.
This juxtaposition comes to the dismay of Michelle Capriotti, whose 16-year-old son attends Casteel High School.
“My concern with watching the school board meeting once we learned about this COVID-19 relief money was we kind of put a price tag on the health and well-being of our students,” Capriotti said.
In a letter to the governor, Deputy Treasury Secretary Adewale Adeyemo wrote the conditions he created for the program are not a permissible use of the funds from the American Rescue Plan. The Treasury Department ordered Governor Ducey to stop using the money to pay for two school grant programs which discourage public schools from issuing mask mandates.
“It’s going to schools which follows the law,” Ducey said, referring to the anti-mask mandate law which was declared unconstitutional.
The State Supreme Court will hear the appeal November 2.
“The federal administration seems to continue to want to focus on masks. We’re going to focus on catching our kids up,” the governor said.
No matter the outcome of the State Supreme Court ruling, the governor anticipates a legal fight with the Treasury Department.
Michelle Capriotti doesn’t get it, saying, “the morality of the situation is concerning.”
“We are essentially putting our kids in harms way because we’re being asked to choose between much needed funding or the health and safety of our kids.”