School's Out

Arizona's K-12 campuses close as coronavirus spreads

Get ready to spend a lot more time with your little ones.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Education Kathy Hoffman announced Sunday afternoon that all Arizona public schools are closing at least through March 27.

"Over the past few weeks and in coordination with public health officials, we have been in close communication with school administrators to provide guidance and be a resource as it relates to the recent outbreak of COVID-19," said Gov. Ducey. "As more schools announce closures and education administrators express staff shortages within their schools, now is the time to act. A statewide closure is the right thing to do. While this measure will not stop the spread of COVID-19, it will bring certainty and consistency in schools across Arizona."

Hoffman said the health and safety of students are their top priority, and is in close contact with school superintendents, teachers and parents to ensure "that our families' needs are met."

Ducey and Hoffman asked districts to "make every effort" to provide continued education through online resources and send-home materials; develop a plan to continue breakfast and lunch services; expand childcare programs; and develop a series of precautions "to ensure schools are a safe learning environment" once students return.

Shortly after Sunday's announcement, TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said he supported the decision.

Trujillo said his staff has worked since February to develop a cross-department plan to handle foodservice, online instruction, transportation "and a host of other areas" in the case of a shutdown.

The district was expected to provide details on its plan at a Wednesday, March 18, governing board meeting, where board members planned to take formal action to close the district and act on a number of recommendations made by Ducey and Hoffman.

Trujillo says they will move to provide online learning for as many students as possible, but the district can't provide online lessons for all of its students.

"Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to provide virtual instruction to all 45,000 students," Trujillo says. "You will see that we are fully capable of providing a virtual learning environment for a certain segment of our student body as a whole."

The superintendent said that his No. 1 recommendation to parents right now is to use spring break, which in underway this week, to plan for childcare needs. The district's website and social media accounts will also post information regarding childcare assistance options.

In addition to planning for childcare, Trujillo asked that parents, students, and staff make sure to take the five precautionary measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Pima County Department of Health:

• Wash your hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds

• Maintain social distance

• Avoid touching your face

• Stay home if you're feeling sick and seek medical attention

• Limit exposure to large crowds

"I think the more that our parents communicate these effective measures to their children, the more effective we can be as a community in combating and defending Pima County against the coronavirus," Trujillo said.

In terms of funding, the district's revenues are guaranteed because the 100-day period has passed, locking in the budget for the year. That means salaried employees will receive their pay through the academic year.

Trujillo added that "in this extraordinary" circumstance, the district will work with the department of education and the Governor's Office to ensure compensation for hourly employees.

Amphi Public Schools superintendent Todd Jaeger released a statement on the closure.

"Since the outset of this crisis, the Amphitheater District has been monitoring information provided by local state and federal health and education officials daily, and we have followed all recommended guidelines for keeping our community safe while balancing the needs of our children," Jaeger wrote. "Until today, that guidance has been to keep our schools open. Today's decision by our state leaders has now led us to shift gears and close our schools."

With the closure in place, Jaeger said the district is working on a strategy to maintain educational services if the closure is extended.

"Our students and our employees are our top priorities," Jaeger wrote. "We are working hard to ensure we are making the best decisions we can as this fluid situation develops."

Amphi announced earlier this week that it would be providing "grab and go" breakfast and lunch at a dozen Amphi schools for students under the age of 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday after spring break ends, including Amphi High School, Amphi Middle School/Prince Elementary School, Canyon del Oro High School, Coronado K-8, Donaldson Elementary School, Frances Owen Halaway Elementary School, Helen Keeling Elementary School, La Cima Middle School, Mesa Verde Elementary School, Nash Elementary, Rio Vista Elementary School and Lulu Walker School.

Marana Unified District Superintendent Doug Wilson said the district remained "committed to the health and safety of your student and family and to our remarkable employees and community. We are thankful for the strong sense of community that exists in our district, and I know that by working together we will get through this unprecedented public health challenge."

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