Local school districts this week reaffirmed their mask mandates after Gov. Doug Ducey revoked state rules requiring them.
In an executive order issued Monday, Ducey rescinded his July 23, 2020 requirement that all school districts and charter schools must develop and implement a policy to require face coverings, such as masks or shields. He also overruled an order by the Department of Health Services issued last November that mandated face coverings in schools.
But the governor allowed individual districts to continue to enforce on-campus mask rules at their own discretion.
“Teachers, families and students have acted responsibly to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect one another,” Ducey said. “And our school leaders are ready to decide if masks should be required on their campuses.”
On Tuesday morning, Superintendent Fernando Parra of the Nogales Unified School District sent an email to NUSD community members noting the governor’s order, and clarifying, in all capital letters, that “mask-wearing will remain in effect at NUSD until further notice.”
The rule currently in effect, Parra wrote, “states that all persons shall wear a cloth face covering while on any district property, any facility, school event or program. This includes all school buses and district vehicles.”
The Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District also sent a similar message to SCVUSD families on Tuesday, noting the governor’s order and reiterating the existing rule at SCVUSD requiring the use of face coverings by all staff, students and visitors while on district property and/or while attending district functions.
That rule, the district’s message said, “will remain in effect and is unchanged by Gov. Ducey’s executive order. All staff, students and visitors to district sites and events will continue to be required to wear face coverings…”
Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, said the governor’s decision to lift the state requirements, coming just five weeks from the end of the school year, was both unnecessary and created “mask mandate chaos.”
“It's likely you’ll have students showing up saying they don’t have to wear masks anymore,” Kotterman said, adding that the governor should have just let the situation remain stable through the rest of the year.
State schools chief Kathy Hoffman was even more critical.
“Today’s abrupt removal of the mask mandate in schools is just one example in a long line of decisions that have resulted in Arizona's embarrassing response to a virus that has claimed over 17,000 lives and impacted thousands more,” she said in her own statement issued Monday.
Hoffman also pointed out that children younger than 16 remain ineligible for the vaccine.
“And the CDC still recommends universal masking in public schools to ensure safe learning environments,” she said.
Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin said the health and safety of teachers and students remains a priority. But he said Ducey saw no need for further state-imposed restrictions.
“We know that transmission is low among youth,” he said. “And Arizona was among the first states to prioritize vaccinating teachers.”
Anyway, Karamargin said, the new order simply ensures that “schools are able to make their own decisions around mask requirements, depending on the needs of their community.”