Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order on Wednesday mandating that state schools reopen with in-person learning after spring break.
In a news release, the governor's office said that 12 of Arizona's 15 counties have met metrics developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for safe reopening with teacher-led instruction.
The governor's order requires schools to return to in-person instruction by March 15, or the end of spring break. Middle schools and high schools in counties with "high" rates of COVID-19 transmission as defined by the CDC are exempt from the order. Currently, only Coconino, Yavapai, and Pinal counties have COVID-19 levels that meet that metric.
Parents are not mandated to send their children back to school and students may continue virtual instruction if that is what their parent or guardian wants for them.
I know not every parent feels comfortable sending their kids back to school. So virtual learning will continue to b… https://t.co/Zel7t402wZ— Doug Ducey (@Doug Ducey) 1614801842.0
"Arizona's students need to be back in the classroom. More than half of Arizona's schools are open and offering in-person options. More schools need to follow their lead, and pave the way for equitable education options for every Arizona student," said Gov. Ducey.
The governor's order won praise from Republicans in the Arizona Legislature.
"Arizona's kids and families have undergone a tremendous amount of stress throughout the pandemic," said state Sen. Paul Boyer (R-Glendale), chairman of the Arizona Senate Education Committee. "I'm glad to see more students going back to the classroom, and today's guidance from the Arizona Department of Health Services will help ensure families that are ready to send their kids back can do so."
"The data is clear — kids can go back to school," said state Rep. Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), chairwoman of the House Education Committee. "Many students have fallen behind, especially those in low income communities. The Governor's order will protect students' needs, while following CDC guidance."
The governor's news release cited studies and health experts that have said it is safe to reopen schools for students and faculty.
"The CDC and numerous health officials have said time and time again that schools are safe and kids can go back to the classroom," Ducey said. "We prioritized teachers in our vaccine distribution, and many have already received their second dose. The science is clear: It's time all kids have the option to return to school so they can get back on track and we can close the achievement gap."