Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order on Wednesday to have schools offer in-person learning by March 15 or after spring break.
Students can still continue in virtual instruction if their parent or guardian approves.
Middle and high schools in counties deemed to have “high” transmission of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, are exempt from the order, Ducey’s office announced. The counties are Coconino, Yavapai, and Pinal.
The remaining 12 of 15 Arizona counties are in phases where schools are safe to reopen, according to metrics from the Centers for Disease Conrol and Prevention (CDC). This includes Maricopa and Pima, the state’s two largest counties.
“Arizona’s students need to be back in the classroom. More than half of Arizona’s schools are open and offering in-person options. More schools need to follow their lead, and pave the way for equitable education options for every Arizona student,” Ducey said in a statement.
“The CDC and numerous health officials have said time and time again that schools are safe and kids can go back to the classroom. We prioritized teachers in our vaccine distribution, and many have already received their second dose. The science is clear: it’s time all kids have the option to return to school so they can get back on track and we can close the achievement gap.”
The order comes about a year after schools across the country shut down in-person learning in efforts to slow the spread of the CCP virus. Decisions to reopen have since been under the discretion of local governments.
A sign indicating school closure due to the spread of the CCP virus is displayed at Deer Valley High School in Glendale, Arizona, on April 2, 2020. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
According to the CDC, “a first step in determining when and how it is safe to reopen involves assessing the level of community transmission.” A table on the CDC website lists what the agency defines as low, moderate, substantial, and high transmission levels, which outlines how schools at each of the transmission levels can work toward reopening.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last month, “there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely. Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools.”
According to Ducey’s office, Arizona has included teachers in the 1B priority group for vaccination, which means that many teachers have already received their second dose of a vaccine.
According to a report published in late January in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there has been “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
The report noted that within-school transmission was “very rare” in North Carolina in the fall of 2020 when 11 school districts in the state with more than 90,000 students and staff reopened for in-person learning for nine weeks.