Arizona schools closed until March 27 due to coronavirus

By: - March 15, 2020 4:27 pm

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which causes COVID-19. Public domain image.

Arizona schools will be closed until March 27 as public health officials work to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The order to close schools came from Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, and is a reversal from a March 12 conference call they had with education leaders in which they recommended schools remain open.

But in the days since, dozens of school districts, charter school networks and private schools announced they were suspending classes. More said they were evaluating what to do while students are on spring break during the upcoming week and were likely to suspend classes in the future.

On Sunday morning, the Arizona Education Association, a teacher’s union that represents 20,000 educators, called for all Arizona schools to be closed indefinitely.

That move was immediately criticized by top Republicans, including Senate President Karen Fann, who called the AEA’s request “pure politics.” In a subsequent tweet, Fann said closing schools would be an “over panic” and was not necessary.

Ducey said that the actions of those school districts prompted he and Hoffman to re-evaluate their position. 

“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,” he said in a written statement. “While this measure will not stop the spread of COVID-19, it will bring certainty and consistency in schools across Arizona.” 

Hoffman said the Arizona Department of Education, which she heads, is working with school district leaders, teachers and parents to ensure the needs of students and their families are met.

“The health and safety of all our students is our top priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep our school doors open — schools provide important services and many families rely on them for nutrition, access to health care and in order to do their own jobs,” she said.

Ducey and Hoffman have directed schools to take steps to minimize disruption during the closure, particularly to ensure students still have access to nutritional meals and health care provided by many Arizona schools.

Among the directives are to make an effort to provide learning opportunities through online resources or materials sent home to students. Another calls for school administrators to develop plans for serving breakfast and lunch to students.

Ducey and Hoffman also want schools to expand available child care programs to provide space for the children of health care workers and first responders. 

One effort to minimize the disruption to parents who can no longer send their children to school is coordinating with non-profits, faith-based organizations and educational entities to make childcare available to those who need it.

There are currently 13 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Arizona.

Ducey on March 11 declared a state of emergency as the state combats the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 illness. On March 12, the Legislature approved $55 million in emergency funding and limited public access to the State Capitol and legislative chambers.

On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency.

Early Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives freed up $50 billion to fight COVID-19 and the spread of the coronavirus.

There are nearly 1,700 verified COVID-19 cases in the United States and 41 people have died.

How you can tell if you might have been impacted

Symptoms of coronavirus resemble that of the flu. So, if you’re experiencing coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, you should consider getting checked out. Call your primary care physician or visit an urgent care center or emergency room — but call the health care provider before you go so they can be prepared for your arrival. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center is taking COVID-19 calls: 1-844-542-8201

How it spreads

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

How to prevent spreading it

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Don’t use your hands.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean surfaces frequently, including counter tops, light switches, cell phones, remotes, and other frequently touched items.
  • Contain: if you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better.

**UPDATED: This story has been updated to include statements from the Arizona Education Association and Senate President Karen Fann.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.