The Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District began requiring face masks in indoor settings on Monday, despite Gov. Doug Ducey’s efforts to stop schools from imposing mask mandates.

“In an effort to mitigate the spread of not only COVID-19 but also other airborne viruses, the district will require staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a face covering while indoors at all district facilities, district events and in any district vehicle, including buses,” SCVUSD said in an alert posted to its website on Friday afternoon.

The district, which began the school year on Aug. 2 by strongly recommending mask use on campus, made its new requirement effective on Monday, Aug. 23.

SCVUSD joined the Nogales Unified School District, as well as a number of other school districts around Arizona, in imposing mask requirements following a judge’s ruling on Aug. 16 that a state law prohibiting mask mandates doesn’t take effect until Sept. 29.

However, SCVUSD’s rule is different from NUSD’s in that it doesn’t require students and staff to wear masks outdoors on school grounds.

In addition, teachers do not have to wear masks while instructing students in lecture/presentation format “as long as the teacher is able to maintain safe distance from the student,” the announcement said, adding that a six-foot distance is recommended. Teachers and staff interacting with students at a distance of three feet or closer are required to wear a face covering.

Other exceptions include students participating in physical education or athletics, as well as anyone actively engaged in eating or drinking.

Gov. Ducey, who signed the school mask mandate ban into law in June, said last week that only those schools that do not have mandates in place by Aug. 27 will receive a share of $163 million in federal COVID relief dollars that he plans to distribute.

However, in an emailed statement to the NI last Thursday, an SCVUSD spokeswoman said the potential financial consequences would not affect the district’s decision on whether to make masks compulsory.

“Money is never a consideration when it comes to the health and safety of our students,” the statement said.

SCVUSD operates five schools in Rio Rico with a combined enrollment of approximately 3,500 students.

Last Wednesday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent a letter to the governor warning against doing anything that could hamper the safe return of students to schools. And that was backed up hours later by President Biden, who told Cardona to use civil rights laws to take actions against governors who prohibit schools from requiring masks.

“We're not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators who protect our children,” the president said.

In his letter to Ducey, Cardona pointed out that the schools requiring masks actually are following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control. And he told the governor that any moves to block districts from following that advice “may infringe upon a school district's authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by federal law.”

Ducey told reporters on Thursday that he wasn't concerned that the state will forfeit its federal COVID relief dollars.

“I’m confident we’re on solid ground,” he said, calling Cardona’s letter “weak and pathetic.”

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