Following the playbook of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, whose state is overrun with COVID-19 cases, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has doubled down amidst pushback against a state law he signed that prohibits mask mandates in schools.

At least 14 school districts in Arizona have implemented COVID-19 mask mandates this school year, including Nogales Unified. Ducey has said those mandates are illegal, but a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Monday that districts could require masks because the law does not take effect until Sept. 29.

In turn, on Tuesday, Ducey's office announced $163 million in federal economic relief grants only for district and charter schools that “follow all state laws and remain open for in-person instruction” through the entire school year.

Ducey’s office said it will provide $10 million, or up to $7,000 per student, to families affected by school mask mandates or quarantine measures. That money could pay for child care, transportation, online tutoring and tuition. But only districts that “follow all state laws” and avoid closures of in-person instruction can qualify for the per-pupil funding. Take that, NUSD Superintendent Fernando Parra and your ilk, who are defying the governor and using every available tool to try and keep students and staff healthy and safe.

With this latest measure to demonstrate who’s boss, Ducey may come off as a good soldier in the eyes of some Republicans. But he’s playing Russian roulette with the health and lives of school children, their teachers and support staff. This can’t end well.

“This latest undertaking of forcing public schools to choose between critical federal relief funds or the health and safety of its students, families and faculty is simply cruel,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva in a press release on Tuesday.

“When Congress allocated those federal funds, the intent was to help districts reopen schools in a safe manner,” Grijalva said. “Schools (that) are taking all those preventative measures should not be penalized or fall victims of poor leadership from the State. If Gov. Ducey was truly worried about the well-being of our children, he would focus on stopping the rapidly increasing community spread of COVID rather than continuing with his political posturing.”

Grijalva said he would inquire with the Biden Administration about the legality of withholding federal relief funds from K-12 schools “that choose to safely reopen by implementing critical mitigation efforts.”

The same day Ducey hit back with his funding threat, the Sahuarita Unified School District up the road reported 30 active cases of COVID-19, according to our sister paper Green Valley News/Sun. Since school began on Aug. 2, 460 students, staff and teachers have been ordered to quarantine after they came into close contact with somebody diagnosed with the virus. Other districts in Southern Arizona are seeing much higher case counts.

I’m afraid that, like DeSantis, no matter the number of infected, hospitalized and dead Arizonans, Ducey will continue to pander to the far right and business interests. This is a sad time for our state.

(Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International. Contact him at publisher@nogalesinternational.com.)

Load comments