March 12, 2020
Dear Arizona Educators,
Today, Governor Ducey, Director Dr. Cara Christ, and I held a conference call with district, charter, and private school leaders regarding guidance on COVID-19.
Like many other states, Arizona is following the Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s Mitigation Strategies in responding to novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Our state and local health officials are using the most up-to-date information to make data-driven and evidence-based recommendations, including guidance around school closures. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) shares these recommendations with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) who then works with our schools and communities to provide accurate guidance and support.
Right now, the question of whether or not a school will be asked to close is top-of-mind for our school communities. In Arizona, school closures can occur if/when:
- The Governor declares a State of Emergency and State & County Health Departments provide direction to counties and schools to close in order to mitigate potential damage of an epidemic;
- County Health Departments provide direction to some or all schools to close based on data/evidence in their county;
- Charter Operators choose to close one or more of their charter schools under A.R.S. § 15-183;
- School Districts or Charter Operators choose to close one or more of their schools under A.R.S. § 15-806 B
While some school districts are making the decision to close, the Arizona Department of Health Services does not currently recommend school closures at this time.
In today’s conversation, Dr. Christ shared with school leaders that school closures could potentially lead to an increase in community spread if students were to be placed in a different congregate area outside of their regular communities for childcare purposes. Importantly, when community spread is minimal, keeping our schools open also provides children with a regular routine that helps reduce panic and fear in the midst tense times.
Should ADHS and county health departments’ recommendations change regarding school closures, ADE will work with our school leaders and state officials to help schools in the process. ADE is committed to keeping families, students, and educators as healthy and safe as possible.
Guidance to Schools
To be proactive, we shared information with district and charter leaders today on how they can continue to provide school meals, special education services, and alternative instruction, should their local county health department recommend a school closure. That guidance can be found on our website here.
I know that our schools have very valid concerns about the health of their communities. We encourage all schools to be in close contact with your county departments of public health who are the foremost experts in your community’s health and who can provide the most appropriate guidance on whether or not your school should remain open.
Impact on Students, Teachers, Communities
Lastly, I want to acknowledge the impact of the fear surrounding this new virus on our students, teachers, families, and communities. Our students have important question about the global outbreak of COVID-19, and we know you want to respond with great care. The CDC has shared resources for talking to children about COVID-19, and in the coming week ADE will be posting more resources on our website for teachers to use in their classrooms.
We will continue to communicate with you, our educators and school leaders, as this situation develops. And we are grateful for all you are doing to keep your school, your students, and yourself healthy & safe.
Kathy Hoffman, MS, CCC-SLP
Superintendent of Public Instruction