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Arizona educators faced with difficult decisions after Ducey rescinds mask mandate

The Arizona School Boards Association said in a statement they are “profoundly disappointed” in Ducey for lifting the mandate.

PHOENIX — Some students in Arizona are now able to return to the classroom with the option to not wear a mask.

Gov. Doug Ducey lifted the masking requirements in public schools Monday, leaving school districts to make their own decisions on whether to require masks on campuses or not.

RELATED: Ducey removes mask requirements for Arizona K-12 schools

Ducey cited CDC evidence as part of his decision to lift the mandate, but the CDC’s guidance and public health experts say otherwise.

CDC guidance: Masks should be worn at school

The CDC has been releasing guidance for schools throughout the pandemic to help districts navigate returning to the classroom.

The latest update from the CDC came in March, where the agency updated distancing guidelines for students.

However, according to guidance posted online, the CDC states that, “all schools should implement and layer prevention strategies and should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing.”

12 News also contacted the CDC about the recommendations; a spokesperson told 12 News in a statement, in part:

“Since issuing its updated Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention on March 19, 2021, CDC continues to recommend that schools require consistent and correct use of face masks by all students, teachers, and staff to ensure the safe delivery of in-person instruction and to help prevent COVID-19 transmission in schools. Masks should be worn at all times, by all people in school facilities, with exceptions for situations such as eating or drinking. Masks should be required in all classroom and non-classroom settings, including hallways, school offices, restrooms, gyms, and auditoriums, as well as on school buses and other public transportation.”

12 News also contacted the governor’s office to ask why this decision was made given the CDC’s guidance, but the governor’s office has not responded.

RELATED: These Arizona school districts are keeping mask mandates after Ducey rescinds them

Districts now shouldering more pandemic decisions

Most districts in the state are keeping masks intact through the end of the year, while others like J.O. Combs and some charter schools are making them optional.

Find a list of districts keeping masks in place here.

The Arizona School Boards Association said in a statement they are “profoundly disappointed” in Ducey for lifting the mandate, adding, in part:

 “…Instead of focusing on completing the last five weeks of school as smoothly as possible, school districts will now be forced to deal with controversy over masking…”

That’s already happening in Chandler. Chandler Unified School District’s Governing Board comments posted on the district’s website show some parents in the district are threatening to withdraw their students should the board decide to keep masks in place at a special meeting on Wednesday.

Public health expert warns of impact on high school students

Dr. Joe Gerald, the associate professor of Public Health Policy and Management for the University of Arizona, criticized Ducey’s decision to eliminate masks on school campuses.

“It’s unsafe, it’s unwise, it’s premature,” Gerald said.

Gerald said while COVID-19 spread is better than it was during the winter surge, he still considers transmission levels “substantial.”

“I’m very disappointed with the decision and the confusion this is going to cause, as well as the possibility to see further increasing transmission in Arizona,” Gerald said.

Gerald said transmission of the virus is one reason he’s concerned about high school students now.

“I think this poses the greatest risk in students grade 9 to 12 because they appear to experience COVID-19 very much like adults do,” Gerald said.

Right now, none of the COVID-19 vaccines has been authorized for those under 16-years-old.

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