AZDHS amends COVID-19 school benchmarks - AZEdNews
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AZDHS amends COVID-19 school benchmarks

A Teacher Instructs One Group Of Her Students During Hybrid Or Modified In-person Instruction At Mesa Unified School District. Photo Courtesy Mesa Unified School District

Click here for updates 11/1 and moving forward

Updated 10/30: The Arizona Department of Health Services has updated its guidance to schools so that they may return to distance learning from hybrid or in-person instruction if just one of the key metrics is in the red or substantial category.

Arizona School Boards Association said it greatly appreciates the conversation and dialogue with partners at the state level, and especially the advocacy and concerns shared by all school board members, school leaders and education advocates during this time.

School leaders should continue to follow the plans carefully crafted by your district that you believe are the safest for your students and staff, ASBA said.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said a communication breakdown between the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Department of Education “left the public confused and uninformed.”

“Yesterday, the Department of Health Services made clarifications to help clear this up. The important part is that these benchmarks provide schools with data-driven metrics, while schools maintain the ultimate authority to make decisions that are best for their communities,” Hoffman and Dr. Cara Christ, director of AZDHS said in a joint statement released today.

“Our goal is to move forward, together. It’s important for Arizona kids and families, and we look forward to continued collaboration during this pandemic and beyond.”

Updated 10/28: The Arizona Department of Health Services changed COVID-19 guidance for schools last week as cases substantially increased in the state, but few education advocates said they heard of the changes until this week.

On Wednesday afternoon, Arizona School Boards Association and Arizona School Administrators said in a statement, “This change was made without, to our knowledge, a concerted effort to communicate the reasoning for the change, or to understand the potential impact this change would have on district planning for the remainder of the year.”

Arizona School Administrators (ASA) is a professional organization representing 200+ districts across the state, and the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) is a voluntary membership organization composed of every school district in Arizona.

Both ASA and ASBA advocated for statewide benchmarks to guide school districts in determining the appropriate and safe learning environment for students and staff and applauded state leaders when these were released earlier this year. However, neither ASA or ASBA were included in discussions on the recent decision by AZDHS to change these recommendations regarding transitioning from hybrid to virtual instruction.

Previously, AZDHS recommended schools move from in-person or hybrid learning to remote or online learning if just one benchmark moved into the substantial spread or red category for two weeks in their Safely Returning to In-Person Instruction.

Now, AZDHS says school districts should move from hybrid or in-person learning to remote or online learning if all three of the benchmarks – cases, percent positivity and COVID-like illness, are in the red or substantial spread stage for two weeks.

AZDHS amends COVID-19 school benchmarks Updated-COVID-19-School-Benchmarks

That means schools could provide hybrid and in-person learning for a longer amount of time while COVID-19 cases increase in the community.

The change is “misguided” because school leaders decisions may now rely on a “flimsy” indicator that hospitals don’t have to report – Covid-like illness, said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association to The Arizona Republic.

AZDHS says their recommendations provide guidance for school districts, but school district leadership has the final say in decisions on what type of instruction they choose to offer their students and families whether they’re community is in minimal, moderate or substantial categories.

These recommendations may place more stress on school district leadership and school district governing boards on when to move from online to in-person learning and back depending on what’s going on in their schools and their communities.

AZDHS Dr. Cara Christ said in a blog today that the changes were made to align the school recommendations in better alignment with the business recommendations on their dashboard, and made in response to concerns from partners in the Schools Reopening Workgroup about how a move back to virtual learning based on one benchmark would affect schools in smaller rural counties where a handful of cases could shift the percent positivity rate into the substantial category quickly.

On Oct. 16, the AZDHS informed the Schools Reopening Workgroup about the implementation of the revised guidance starting Oct. 22, and last week, posted the changes on its Schools webpage.

ASBA is not part of that workgroup.

“Arizona’s School districts made their plans for this school year based on guidance released by the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) in the summer,” ASA and ASBA said in a statement in response to the school benchmark changes.

That guidance outlined three conditions to monitor and identified certain thresholds as green, yellow, and red. It also stated that schools should start preparing for virtual learning if any one of the three benchmarks falls in the red category, indicating ‘substantial community spread’ of COVID-19.

“Administrators and school boards spent untold hours of planning and hours more of public meetings to develop these plans and get the 2020-2021 school year underway,” ASA and ASBA said.

The revised guidance recommends schools start preparing for virtual learning when all three benchmarks are in the red (substantial community spread) category. It states,  “If a county has all three benchmarks in the red category, they should prepare to transition to virtual learning, and consult with their local health department.”

“Ultimately, local governing boards and administrators retain the authority to protect student health and safety. ASA and ASBA encourage school districts to adhere to their original plans regarding moving to virtual learning if they feel that would best protect students and staff,” ASBA and ASA said

“Both organizations also strongly recommend that any changes or adjustments to these recommendations be thoroughly vetted with stakeholders and clearly communicated to schools with accompanying rationale before changes are made or implemented,” ASA and ASBA said.

On Monday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman released a summary of COVID-19 updates, guidance and news from the Arizona Department of Education.

Supt. Hoffman also spoke with ABC 15 Arizona’s Danielle Lerner about it.

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Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Arizona rose to 241,165 today from 240,122 yesterday, and 5,905 have died from the virus, said the Arizona Department of Health Services.

In Maricopa County, there are 155,951 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 27,962 in Pima County, 13,689 in Yuma County, 11,873 in Pinal County, 6,340 in Navajo County, 5,165 in Coconino County, 4,340 in Mohave County, 3,934 in Apache County, 3,004 in Santa Cruz County, 2,939 in Yavapai County, 2,150 in Cochise County, 1,914 in Gila County, 1,185 in Graham County, 618 in La Paz County and 101 in Greenlee County.

Interactive Graphic: (Hover over counties and boxes for more info)


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In Maricopa County, there are 155,458 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 27,703 in Pima County, 13,670 in Yuma County, 11,832 in Pinal County, 6,307 in Navajo County, 5,121 in Coconino County, 4,313 in Mohave County, 3,890 in Apache County, 2,995 in Santa Cruz County, 2,919 in Yavapai County, 2,125 in Cochise County, 1,907 in Gila County, 1,162 in Graham County, 616 in La Paz County and 103 in Greenlee County.

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Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Arizona rose to 238,964 today from 238,163 yesterday, and 5,875 have died from the virus, said the Arizona Department of Health Services.

In Maricopa County, there are 154,722 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 27,575 in Pima County, 13,646 in Yuma County, 11,743 in Pinal County, 6,307 in Navajo County, 5,090 in Coconino County, 4,272 in Mohave County, 3,885 in Apache County, 2,981 in Santa Cruz County, 2,893 in Yavapai County, 2,121 in Cochise County, 1,863 in Gila County, 1,151 in Graham County, 613 in La Paz County and 102 in Greenlee County.

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In Maricopa County, there are 152,695 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 27,297 in Pima County, 13,442 in Yuma County, 11,638 in Pinal County, 6,238 in Navajo County, 4,925 in Coconino County, 4,244 in Mohave County, 3,826 in Apache County, 2,968 in Santa Cruz County, 2,864 in Yavapai County, 2,098 in Cochise County, 1,830 in Gila County, 1,105 in Graham County, 611 in La Paz County and 100 in Greenlee County.

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Earlier coverage

Oct. 7 – Oct. 19: What are teachers doing ahead of elections to support students afterwards

Sept. 23- Oct. 6: 44 A+Schools of Excellence named today

Aug. 25 – Sept. 8: Parents voice concern about online class size; school nurses prepare for students

Aug. 12 – Aug. 24: Students, teachers affected by Zoom outage

July 30 – Aug. 11: Parent organizes co-op for learners; group rallies for in-person school days after benchmarks release

July 13- July 30: Teachers prepare for digital learning and back to school

June 29 – July 12Video: Gov. says ‘Goal is to get children back to school when it’s safe;’ Schools lay out learning models

June 29: Video: Gov. delays in-person classes to Aug. 17 due to rise in COVID-19

June 15 – June 29: Video: Gov. pauses re-opening of some businesses as COVID-19 cases rise

June 24: Plan provides more funding, flexible instruction as schools re-open

May 26 – June 12: Increase in COVID-19 cases marks a new daily high

May 20 – 25: AZ Dept. of Ed releases COVID-19 guidance to schools for summer programs, back to school

May 11 – 19: Arizonans consider workplace safety, what back to school will look like amid COVID-19

April 26 – May 10: Stores re-open, COVID-19 testing blitz resumes on Saturday

April 8 – 25You can get tested now if you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19

March 12 – April 7Coronavirus response: Cases rise; AZ Day of Giving