BULLHEAD CITY — Arizona’s public schools will reopen in the fall, although many of the details have yet to be announced.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday that schools, forced to close buildings in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will reopen under the direction of the Arizona Department of Education. Most schools in Arizona turned to distance learning via the internet or delivered lessons to complete the 2019-20 school year.
“As school leaders prepare for the 2020-21 school year, the Arizona Department of Education will issue guidance to serve as a roadmap for preparing for a variety of learning options that keep students and teachers safe,” Supt. Kathy Hoffman said in a news release. “This document, created by a broad group of education leaders, public health officials, and stakeholders, will provide adaptable, flexible recommendations, considerations, and resources for districts and charters to plan for the upcoming academic year. This guidance will be released on Monday, June 1.”
Ducey also announced that youth sports may resume in the state — some summer programs already had relaunched their seasons — and that summer day camps also can resume.
Ducey said schools will be reopening, but they won’t necessarily be exactly as they were at the start of the school year, months before the novel coronavirus arrived in Arizona.
“It will look different. It will feel different,” he said. “But the idea is that kids will have a more traditional, routine school day where possible and safe.”
Superintendents are making plans to reduce class sizes, create disinfectant protocols and be flexible with parents and employees who have health problems that put them at higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19, said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
“School supplies so much more than education,” Christ said. “It’s important to get these children back in school, back into a normal routine.”
“Of course its going to be a new normal,” she said.
Ducey announced the reopening of schools even as the state sees an uptick in metrics used to track the progression of the disease, including the portion of tests that are positive and the portion of emergency room visits that are for COVID-19 symptoms.
Arizona is firmly in the first phase of the White House’s three-stage reopening guidelines, Ducey said. The White House suggested reopening schools during phase two. Ducey said he was announcing the decision now to give parents and administrators time to plan ahead.
For youth sports operators looking to resume, the state is advising coaches to maintain social distancing before and after games, avoid sharing drinks and disinfecting shared equipment, Christ said. Spectators will be limited.
Ducey pushed back on reporter questions about videos from old town Scottsdale on Memorial Day that showed crowds of hundreds of people partying in the nightclub district. He repeatedly avoided criticizing people ignoring social distancing guidance and stressed that most people are following the rules. The state has avoided overwhelming hospitals, he said.
“Thank you to the people of Arizona for being responsible,” Ducey said. “We wouldn’t have these numbers if people weren’t being responsible.”
Will Humble, a former state health director, said Ducey’s failure to criticize the “bad behavior” seen at the Scottsdale bar scene could encourage other establishments.
“The bars that have been suffering and doing the right thing are going to look at that behavior and say, ‘Nothing happened to the downtown Scottsdale people and they made a truckload of money over Memorial Day, so I’m going to do the same thing,’ ” Humble said. “And then its starts to metastasize.”
Bars that serve only alcohol are among the last businesses that remain closed under an order from Ducey, but clubs that also serve food can reopen — as those in the club district have. The governor allowed many businesses to reopen earlier this month and a stay-home order that was put in place in early April was allowed to expire on May 15.
State health officials reported 501 additional COVID-19 cases with 26 additional deaths as of Thursday, increasing the state’s totals to 17,763 cases with 857 deaths.