PHOENIX – In response to confusion caused by claims made by Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and her staff, she and Dr. Cara Christ, Director of the Department of Health Services, released a joint statement in support of the new school reopening benchmarks.
The two women chalked up the confusion to a “communications breakdown:”
“Since we started working together in 2019, we have enjoyed a strong partnership and a shared commitment to keeping Arizona’s kids healthy and safe. That partnership has been so important during COVID-19, and we’ve sought to always be aligned and work together during this pandemic. We want to make it clear: That hasn’t changed. Together, we developed benchmarks for our schools to safely reopen.
“Unfortunately, there was a communications breakdown between the agencies that 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.
“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.”
Christ announced during a news conference with the Governor Thursday, that officials had worked together on revising the benchmarks used to determine when return to virtual learning. Hoffman denied working on the changes in a tweet:
The Arizona Department of Education did not request or recommend any changes to the @AZDHS school benchmarks.
— Kathy Hoffman (@Supt_Hoffman) October 29, 2020
Christ explained the need to change the benchmarks on her blog:
During conversations with the Schools Reopening Workgroup, partners expressed concern about the instability that would occur if recommendations to move back to virtual learning were based on a change in one benchmark. Especially in smaller, rural counties, an increase in just two or three cases would result in a significant increase in the rates of COVID-19 or a change in the percent positivity that may shift a school from hybrid instruction to virtual instruction. This variability could cause weekly shifts in educational delivery model recommendations, resulting in uncertainty for families and schools as they plan for upcoming weeks.
Based on these concerns, ADHS made school guidance and benchmarks a weekly discussion item on our Workgroup calls. Starting on Oct. 2, ADHS worked with the experts on the Workgroup to revise the guidance, update documents, and discuss changes to the dashboard to provide more stability in the recommendations.
As with the Business Dashboard, ADHS determined that all three transmission benchmarks should be the substantial category before a county moves into the substantial category on the Schools Dashboard with a recommendation that districts and charter schools begin planning for virtual learning. Should this occur, ADHS recommends that school leaders work with local health officials to determine the appropriate next steps.
“Despite widespread concerns, two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 schooling and the spread of the coronavirus,” NPR reported last week. “And a third study from the United States shows no elevated risk to childcare workers who stayed on the job.”
A study by Yale researchers assessed the risk to employees of child care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers found that “child care programs that remained open throughout the pandemic did not contribute to the spread of the virus to providers.”
At the same time, children are suffering due to school closures.
The medical director at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., Dr. Danielle Dooley, told NPR that kids are “experiencing mental health problems, hunger, obesity due to inactivity, missing routine medical care and the risk of child abuse — on top of the loss of education.”
“Going to school is really vital for children,” said Dooley. “They get their meals in school, their physical activity, their health care, their education, of course.”