Highlights from Press Conference

Governor Ducey and Superintendent Hoffman participated in a joint press conference on July 23rd to discuss additional guidance for opening schools. While there is no longer a specific date by which schools must resume in-person instruction (previously it was August 17), schools are required to begin offering distance learning on their first regularly scheduled day of instruction (based on their locally adopted school calendar).

The decision about when to re-open schools for in-person, teacher-led instruction at school sites will continue to be made at the local level. Additional information is expected from the Arizona Department of Health Services in early August regarding common public health benchmarks to use to open schools and begin in-person instruction for all students.

In addition, beginning August 17, schools are required to provide on-site learning opportunities and support services for students who need a safe place to learn. Note that this does not necessarily mean in-person instruction by teachers; learning may still take place virtually. Schools are in the process of developing detailed plans for providing these free onsite support services, and will reach out to families about this opportunity. As schools develop these plans they will consider students enrolled in free or reduced price lunch programs, special education students, English language learners and those in the care of the Department of Child Safety or foster care. This is especially important given that some parents work in critical and essential occupations and are unable to accommodate virtual teacher-led instruction in their homes. We also know that many children don’t have access to technology at home.

The Governor also announced he is dedicating an additional $170 million in CARES Act funding to ensure funds are available to schools, bringing the total available for Enrollment Stability Grants alone to $370 million. This is in addition to approximately $70 million to support various efforts designed to close the achievement gap, such as funding to expand broadband access.

Our Take:

While it is understandably frustrating that the state’s plan is coming out as schools are about to start, this is a positive development. The executive order will provide statewide public health benchmarks for reopening, it allows each district the flexibility to use those benchmarks to identify a safe date to reopen for their own community, and provides some additional clarity for families as the school year begins.

To be clear, there remain unanswered questions. Local schools still have decisions to make in response to an ever-changing pandemic environment. There isn’t a student, educator, parent or caregiver who isn’t anxious to get kids back in classrooms, but the safety of everyone involved must be considered. In the end, students will be best served if we all focus on working together, being patient and respectful, and assuming good intentions, as everyone works toward creating safe environments to support success for all students in these unprecedented times.

Some Specifics:

The new executive order (EO 2020-51) released yesterday:

  • Directs the Arizona Department of Health Services to develop public health benchmarks for safe return of schools to in-person instruction, no later than August 7, 2020.
    • Districts and Charters are required to consider these recommendations, guidance from county public health officials, community needs and available resources when determining a date to safely return to in-person teacher-led instruction at school sites.
  • Requires schools to begin virtually at the start of their academic calendar, and will return to in-person instruction at the discretion of their local school boards.
    • Clarifies that schools will continue to be required to provide a full year of instruction and distance learning will count toward the minimum instructional days required by law.
  • Requires schools to offer “on-site learning opportunities” to vulnerable populations beginning August 17th.
    • Districts have the flexibility to determine what vulnerable populations they will serve and where they will serve students with “on-site learning opportunities.”
      • At discretion of district/charter, this may include children of first responders, children in DCS custody, students with disabilities and students lacking adequate technology at home to participate in distance learning
      • These are not required to be teacher-led instruction, and don’t have to be offered at every school site.
  • Requires schools to adopt policies regarding face coverings for all staff and students over the age of 5.
  • Discusses the mechanisms used for funding schools providing various types of instruction and support.
  • Guarantees schools employees will continue to be paid their full salary during building closures, with certain requirements.

Read Governor Ducey’s plan here.

The Arizona Department of Education has also released frequently asked questions, which provide additional information.