Benchmarks For Reopening Ensure Schools Will Remain Closed For Now

On Thursday, the Arizona Department of Health Services released the benchmarks schools leaders are to consider when deciding whether or not to open for in-class instruction. The benchmarks ensure that schools will remain closed to most students for at least several weeks.

Governor Ducey’s June 23 Executive Order called for the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to establish the benchmarks.

In the benchmarks ADHS “recommends schools consider county-specific public health benchmarks that provide recent information about community transmission including number of new cases, diagnostic test percent positivity, and COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

The benchmarks are classified into minimal, moderate, and substantial transmission categories as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For initial reopening of a hybrid based model that offers both virtual and in-person learning, ADHS is recommending county-level benchmarks:

Cases: a two-week decline in weekly average cases OR two weeks below 100 cases per 100,000 population

Diagnostic test percent positivity: two weeks with positivity below 7%

COVID-19-Like-Illness Syndromic Surveillance: two weeks with less than 10% of hospital visits due to COVID-like illness

Screen shots of benchmark data which is displayed on the Arizona Department of Health Services website. See the metrics dashboard here.

According to Arizona Department of Education, the schools are required to provide onsite learning opportunities and support services no matter where the metrics are beginning August 17.

While schools will remain closed to students, some school districts have found a way to make money off of the closure. Just this week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) contacted the Gilbert Public School District regarding the fact that despite the fact that the schools have been deemed unsafe due to COVID-19, the district is offering a temporary daily “childcare” service for students in Kindergarten through 8th Grade, held inside 9 of the district’s elementary schools, for a cost of $160 per child for the week.

From ACJL:

The “GPS Childcare” program will occur in the Gilbert Public Schools classrooms, will have a “curriculum,” and will have “online coursework completion and support.” Whatever you call this – and we think it sure sounds like “school” or “education” – the net result on parents is the same: they must pay for their child to have classroom access on school premises during school hours.

It’s not fair. And as we explain in our letter, it may even violate the Arizona constitution and statutory requirements.

Parents rely on schools to not only teach their children and give them access to necessary tools like computers and Internet access, but also to provide a safe place for them during the day. These Arizona schools know that, and we’re urging them to eliminate or reduce the fee for providing this critical service.

What we see happening in Arizona, offering those families childcare (or online education in the classroom) at an additional price, is unacceptable. Using the resources available to offer childcare during this tough time is one thing. But to take the people’s tax dollars, not provide the intended service, AND then demand more money to provide an alternative service is just plain wrong. It should stop immediately. Our legal team is reviewing the situation and will be prepared to take further legal action if necessary.

ACLJ takes exception to the district’s program based on the fact that it “appears that GPS’s action to require payment for the provision of classroom access on school premises during school hours, under any title or categorization, to our client’s child is ultra vires and unlawful, and violates the Arizona Constitution. Specifically, this action violates Sections 6, 8, 9, and 10 of Article 11 of the Arizona Constitution in that it reflects an attempt to charge tuition and provide an education which is not free, and which is funded by moneys not generated by taxation.”

 

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