Monday, August 16, 2021

Catalina Foothills, Amphi School Districts Will Require Masks Indoors & Other COVID Updates

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2021 at 7:31 PM

The Catalina Foothills and Amphitheater school districts will require universal use of masks indoors effective Tuesday.

The district informed families and staff in a Monday email that it would require masking indoors, regardless of vaccination status, because of the ruling in the case against Phoenix Union High School District’s mask mandate.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner ruled that the district did not violate a state law prohibiting schools from mandating masks, since it does not go into effect until Sept 29, 90 days after the legislative session adjourns.

Catalina Foothills  updated their mitigation plan and said “it is aligned with federal, state and county public health guidance.”

Amphi will also require staff and students, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks while indoors on school district property and on district buses, beginning Tuesday. Superintendent Todd Jaeger notified parents and staff of the new policy through a letter sent out on Monday afternoon.

Jaeger cited the recommendation of health officials that students should wear masks in schools, including guidance from the CDC, the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Pima County Health Department, and the American Association of Pediatrics. He also noted the increase in COVID-19 cases, particularly outbreaks in their schools. On Monday, one school in the district had 23% of the student body absent due to illness, Jaeger said.

As of Monday, the Pima County Health Department reported 489 COVID cases in schools and 25 outbreaks since July 20. At Monday’s Board of Supervisor meeting, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said they have had to close 15 classrooms as a result of an outbreak.

On Aug. 5, the Tucson Unified School District Board voted unanimously to require masks indoors before the start of the school year with rising cases of COVID-19 and outbreaks in schools since they reopened.

Marana Unified School District staff and governing board members are discussing a mask requirement with their legal team.

Last week the Arizona Education Association, Arizona School Boards Association and a coalition of education organizations and supporters filed a lawsuit against the state over the constitutionality of the ban on K-12 mask mandates.

They argued the provisions included in the K-12 budget bill, prohibiting school districts from requiring masks and the COVID-19 vaccine for students and staff are unconstitutional, as they are unrelated to the budget.

Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the governor’s legal team is "confident the legislation we signed is completely constitutional.”

While the Pima County Board of Supervisors did not support a resolution to mandate masks in K-12 schools last week as it would be in conflict with state law, the board offered to help districts that have implemented a mask mandate.

At the meeting on Monday morning, the board approved County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry’s recommendation that the Pima County Health Department “provide technical assistance, tailored public health orders, and expert testimony to support local school districts who make the decision to require face masks for students, teachers and staff and to join as a party in any litigation initiated by the State to assist in the defense of a decision of that local school district." They voted 4-1, with Supervisor Steve Christy as the one dissenting vote.

“The policy the Board approved today will empower Pima County school districts that want to take this step,” said Supervisor Rex Scott. “We will also be stating our intent that we stand shoulder to shoulder with these districts against a state law that is an affront to both public health and local control.”

However, the board voted 3-2 against a motion to file a suit on behalf of the county against the state or schools. Scott voted against the motion in order to discuss it at the Sept. 7 meeting.

The Board of Supervisors will also revisit incentives for unvaccinated county employees at the Sept. 7 meeting. They voted 3-2 to immediately put in place the incentives for vaccinated county employees recommended by Huckelberry in his Aug. 16 memo, which would provide a one-time $300 for any employee vaccinated by Oct. 1, and three-day leave for COVID care for those who received the vaccine.

Last week, the county had considered mandating vaccinations against COVID-19 for county employees, but the resolution fell through.

City of Tucson stands by requirement that city employees get vaccinated

At a special meeting on Friday, the Tucson City Council voted to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all city employees, requiring they get vaccinated by Aug. 24.

On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order in an effort to ensure local government employees can use earned sick leave due to COVID-19 exposure.

"We encourage all Arizonans to get the vaccine — it's safe, effective and free," Ducey said. "But getting it is a personal choice, and we will not allow discrimination based on vaccination status. Today's order builds on our efforts to protect Arizonans from excessive mandates that hinder their freedom to choose what's best for their health."

Ducey’s Executive Order states:

  • Any county, city, town or political subdivision official that implements a vaccine mandate contrary to the authorities outlined in this order, is in violation of A.R.S. 36-114 and 36-184 and such actions are punishable by a class 3 misdemeanor and subject to legal action by individuals for violation of their rights under Arizona law; and
  • Any county, city, town or political subdivision official that fails to provide earned sick leave to an employee if it is recommended that the employee stay home due to exposure to COVID-19, is in violation of the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act and action may be taken by individuals pursuant to the Act in the courts or through the Industrial Commission.

However, City Attorney Mike Rankin believes the Executive Order has “no effect on the actions taken by the Mayor and Council on Friday.” He noted previous executive orders by Ducey “lacked the authority to override the prior Pima County mask requirements” and these orders are the same.

Mayor Regina Romero criticized Ducey for prioritizing his political aspirations over the health and well-being of Arizonans

“Gov. Ducey is paving the way for COVID-19 to spread uncontrollably throughout our state, and attempting to impede those of us who believe in science-based solutions at the local level,” said Romero. “We have seen the deadly repercussions of similar approaches by the governors of Texas and Florida, yet Gov. Ducey is consciously deciding to head down the same path knowing full well what the consequences are. Gov. Ducey is playing a deadly game of one-upmanship that will lead to preventable hospitalizations and deaths.”

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