The law banning facemask and COVID-19 vaccination mandates has no penalties and doesn’t even take effect until Sept. 29, but Chandler Unified, Kyrene and Tempe Union High School District will not be requiring them to be worn on their campuses.
But school bus passengers in those districts must wear them, largely because a federal law requires masks on all public transportation.
Attorney Jordan Ellel, who represents Kyrene, Tempe Union and Tempe Elementary, advised against defying the mask mandate ban that the Republican majority in the Legislature passed in the waning hours of the 2021 session.
Two Phoenix districts last week challenged that ban by requiring all staff and students to wear masks on campuses as school resumed.
That drew the ire of Gov. Doug Ducey, who called it unenforceable.
Ducey also is in a battle that’s so far been only of words with two Arizona school districts over their requirement that any unvaccinated student who comes in contact with an infected person stay at home for 10 to 14 days.
Kyrene and Tempe Union have indicated somewhat similar quarantine policies, stating their actions will be aligned with whatever the county health department directs.
Chandler Unified’s policy recommends that individuals who come within 3 feet for 15 minutes with an infected person or who are in a household where someone has been stricken by COVID-19 get tested follow certain guidelines.
“If previously tested positive for COVID-19 by PCR or antigen test, have recovered, and completed isolation period with in the last 90 days, quarantine is not needed with proof of positive test,” the policy states.
“Individuals tested and have shown symptoms can return to school after 24 hours with no fever, improvement in symptoms and 10 days since symptoms first appeared.”
Individuals who have tested positive or who refused a test can be quarantined for up to 10 days, depending on when symptoms first appeared.
CUSD spells out on its website at cusd80.com/Page/113434 other conditions related to exposure or infection that include a possible quarantine period of up to 10 days.
The ban on vaccine and masks mandates makes no mention of quarantine.
In his battle with Peoria and a Tucson area district, Ducey has contended that requiring an unvaccinated student to stay home for 10 to 14 days after close contact with an infected person is essentially a requirement to get vaccinated.
The ongoing controversy over masks gained traction last month after the Centers for Disease Control advised that even vaccinated people should wear masks to protect themselves from the virulent Delta variant of COVID-19.
That variant has taken a commanding presence in the city of Chandler as well as the three school districts serving its northern ZIP codes, according to county health department data.
That data show Chandler Unified, Tempe Union and Kyrene all have “high transmission” levels.
Cases per 100,000 in the last two weeks have soared to just a notch above or below 200 in all three school districts – a dramatic uptick in a number that had been well below 100 a month ago.
The percent of positive new COVID-19 test results in those districts fell slightly but is still in the mid-teens, again higher than what it was a month earlier.
The county does not break down vaccine data by school districts but its data show that 57.3 percent of all eligible Chandler residents are fully vaccinated.
Tempe Union spokeswoman Megan Sterling said the districts’ lawyer “has reviewed extensively” the ban on mask mandates and acknowledged the law doesn’t take effect for nearly two more months.
“Under the newly revised school guidance released by the CDC on Tuesday, July 27, face coverings are strongly recommended in all K-12 settings for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals,” she said Jordan advised.
“Additionally, the CDC is recommending that even fully vaccinated individuals wear a face covering in areas of substantial or high transmission – which applies to Maricopa County and the Kyrene School District boundaries based on current metrics.”
Ellel noted that state health director Dr. Cara Christ - who is leaving her post at the end of the month -and state schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman also advise kids and adults to wear masks on campuses.
But he noted that Ducey “has been unmoved” and stated, “The conflict between the statute and recommendations of public health agencies must be resolved in favor of statute.
“Therefore, lacking any further movement from the Governor in the form of an executive order, the District will strongly recommend and encourage the use of face coverings at school and school events, but cannot make it mandatory.”
Both districts for now are keeping classrooms open five days a week.
Kyrene’s mask mandate for kids on buses didn’t sit well with some parents on social media and even the thought of a return to mandatory masks irked others.
On some Chandler Facebook pages, for example, people early last week were urging parents to show up at a Chandler Unified Governing Board meeting Aug. 4 to protest any return to mandatory masks. The only problem: no meeting was scheduled.
The board doesn’t meet until this Wednesday, Aug. 11. Although the agenda was not expected to be released until early this week, it appeared unlikely there would be any consideration of a return to mandatory masks.
Meanwhile, a Kyrene parent posted two weeks ago on social media that he planned to wait at the bus stop with his kids “demanding they be allowed on the LOCAL bus to school without a mask because the idea that the Kyrene school bus is a federal operation is laughable.
“If the bus driver will not comply, I will drive my kids to school,” he stated. “I’m not here to start anything unreasonable. However, I am here to resist this unreasonable move by the district.”
He said, “This isn’t about ‘the science’ or safety. This is a political jab at the more liberty oriented among us.
“Obviously state law prevents them from mandating masks in the classroom right now, but if this were honestly about the science, they’d tell parents that its unsafe to send the kids to school anyway, until they can re-implement a classroom mask mandate in addition to the bus mandate.”
His remarks set off what has become a typical storm of comments from both mask supporters and opponents making the same kinds of arguments that were made by people addressing the Kyrene and Tempe Union governing boards since last September.
Ducey last week issued a strident press release denouncing mask mandates and accused the Biden Administration of diluting its message on vaccines by recommending all people still wear masks.
“Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn’t vaccinated,” Ducey’s statement said. “We’ve passed all of this into law, and it will not change.
“The CDC today is recommending that we wear masks in school and indoors, regardless of our vaccination status. This is just another example of the Biden-Harris administration’s inability to effectively confront the COVID-19 pandemic.”
He also stated, “Here in Arizona, we’ve been consistent from the beginning: Arizonans should get this vaccine.”