10/28/20 Advocacy Update

by | Oct 29, 2020

Late yesterday, reports circulated the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) had issued changes to the “Safely Returning to In-Person Instruction” guidelines that districts have been using to guide their decision making since the summer. The document directs school leaders to monitor the number of cases, percent positivity, and percentage of hospital visits for COVID-like illness in their community. A threshold in each category is classified as red, yellow, or green to indicate a minimal, moderate, or substantial community spread of the virus. Previously, school leaders were advised to start preparing for virtual learning if any one of the measures fell into the red category, indicating substantial spread.

As of October 22, the guidance now directs schools to prepare for virtual learning only if ALL THREE measures fall into the red category. ADHS advises counties with one benchmark in the red category for 2 or more weeks to consult with their local county health department to determine whether or not to transition back to virtual learning. Despite this change in guidance from ADHS, and while ASBA encourages consultation with county health officials, school districts still retain the ultimate authority to decide which instructional model works best for their community.

Read the full statement from ASBA and ASA: 

Arizona’s School districts made their plans for this school year based on guidance released by the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) in the summer. That guidance outlined three conditions to monitor and identified certain thresholds as green, yellow, and red. It also stated that schools should start preparing for virtual learning if any one of the three benchmarks falls in the red category, indicating “substantial community spread” of COVID-19. Administrators and school boards spent untold hours of planning and hours more of public meetings to develop these plans and get the 2020-2021 school year underway.

The revised guidance recommends schools start preparing for virtual learning when all three benchmarks are in the red (substantial community spread) category. It states,  “If a county has all three benchmarks in the red category, they should prepare to transition to virtual learning, and consult with their local health department.” This change was made without, to our knowledge, a concerted effort to communicate the reasoning for the change, or to understand the potential impact this change would have on district planning for the remainder of the year.

Arizona School Administrators (ASA) is a professional organization representing 200+ districts across the state, and the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) is a voluntary membership organization composed of every school district in Arizona. Both ASA and ASBA advocated for statewide benchmarks to guide school districts in determining the appropriate and safe learning environment for students and staff and applauded state leaders when these were released earlier this year. However, neither ASA nor ASBA were included in discussions on the recent decision by DHS to change these recommendations regarding transitioning from hybrid to virtual instruction.

Ultimately, local governing boards and administrators retain the authority to protect student health and safety. ASA and ASBA encourage schools district to adhere to their original plans regarding moving to virtual learning if they feel that would best protect students and staff.  Both organizations also strongly recommend that any changes or adjustments to these recommendations be thoroughly vetted with stakeholders and clearly communicated to schools with accompanying rationale before changes are made or implemented.  

Read more on AZEdNews: Education advocates respond to AZDHS changes in COVID-19 school benchmarks