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Elite Phoenix private school faces backlash from families over policy to shield campus from COVID

Brophy College Prep gives students and staff a choice: get vaccinated or tested. 'Concerned Parents' group wants changes and hints at legal action.

PHOENIX — The principal of Phoenix's Brophy College Prep is standing firmly behind the elite private school's COVID-19 mandates in the face of a legal threat backed by hundreds of people in the school's orbit who say Brophy's gone too far.

Brophy has instituted what might be the most sweeping school mandates in the state.

Students, faculty and staff at the all-boys school have a choice: Get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 10 or get tested for the coronavirus twice a week.

Free pooled testing for students is available on campus and a free vaccination clinic will be held on campus Friday.

"Our job is to try to make decisions that we believe best for the entire school community," Principal Bob Ryan said in an interview Tuesday.

"Things changed rapidly over the summer as delta (COVID variant) began to surge and we saw case counts rise. This is not what any of us wanted."

The sons of McCains and Ducey's have received a Jesuit education at the 93-year-old school's leafy north-central Phoenix campus. 

RELATED: These Arizona school districts still have a mask requirement

'Empathize With Parents'

But COVID-19 has cast a shadow. Students were away from campus much of last year. 

"We want to get back to as normal and complete a school year as possible for our kids," Ryan said.

"I really empathize with parents who are trying to sift their way through this. Science is evolving, there's a lot of conflicting information out there and we see that play out across the state."

Since the mandates were announced in early August, the student count at Brophy's high school has shrunk by six students, to 1,336, according to a Brophy spokeswoman.

RELATED: Gov. Ducey signs executive order to strengthen enforcement against vaccine mandates

Hundreds Sign Letter 

A group called "Concerned Parents of Brophy" sent a nine-page letter to the Brophy Board of Trustees last week. It was signed by more than 800 student family members, alumni, donors and supporters. They called on the board to revise the COVID policy.

"We are proud to be affiliated with Brophy," the letter says. "It has been a positive force in our community for many years, helping our sons, grandsons, and friends grow into better men. It is a wonderful institution that has earned our support, affection, and gratitude."

The letter goes on to say: 

"The administration's recently announced vaccination mandate should be discussed thoughtfully and, ultimately, revised. In its current form, the school's new policy is both under-inclusive and over-inclusive in material ways."

RELATED: Arizona hospitals see 'exponential' rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases

Deadline for Trustees

The letter concludes with a warning about Brophy's potential legal liability and student defections.

"The families of at least 100 students are actively considering withdrawing from Brophy over these serious issues," the letter says.

The letter gave the trustees a deadline of the close of business Wednesday to make the requested changes or schedule a meeting with the board for next Monday to discuss potential changes with parents.

No individuals have taken responsibility for composing the letter. It's written in the style of a legal demand letter. A new Twitter feed posts updates.

12 News couldn't get a comment for this story.

One of the more notable signers of the parent letter is Kari Lake, the former TV news anchor who's running in the Republican primary for governor. Her daughter graduated from the all-girls Xavier College Prep, a sister school to Brophy. 

Lake is fiercely opposed to any mandates that would protect school communities from COVID-19.

RELATED: Ducey offering $163 million in funding to schools following state laws, allowing in-person classes

Principal: Trustees Back Policy

Ryan said the school's policies have the Board of Trustees' support.

"Our board's met frequently to review our policies, analyze our position, consider all perspectives that have weighed in on this," he said. "The policy reflects the input from and the support of our Board of Trustees." 

Two of Ducey's sons are Brophy graduates. The governor's name is not on the letter.

Private schools like Brophy aren't affected by the state's ban on COVID mandates that Ducey has signed into law.

With several Arizona school districts defying the looming ban, the governor is dangling cash incentives to steer public schools away from mandates.

School districts and charter schools could receive grants of up to $1,800 per pupil for complying with bans on mask and vaccine mandates.

Parents who want to bail out of a child's school because of mandates or school closures could collect up to $7,000 for education-related needs, such as private school tuition.

Ducey's Impact on Brophy Mandate?

Ryan dismissed the idea that Ducey's opposition to mandates had made his job harder.

"We have a great relationship with the governor and the governor's office," Ryan said. 

"We respect the job he has to do, and we're doing the best we can here for our school community." 

Ryan said the Jesuit school's mission informs everything it does.

"We realize that we're connected to the broader community," he said. "We have a responsibility to the common good. So that's impacted all the decisions we've made."

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