PHOENIX — The superintendent of the historic Phoenix Union High School District is speaking out about the district’s mandate that all students and staff wear masks while indoors. In September an Arizona law goes into effect that bans school districts from mask mandates.
“This isn’t a decision about defiance or non-compliance. It’s is a decision about science and following what we know to be true as far as recommendations from the CDC,” said Dr. Chad Gestson.
Ducey: We expect schools to follow the law
Despite the law being passed by the Arizona legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this summer, both the CDC and Arizona’s top health adviser (appointed by Ducey) recommend students and teachers wear masks indoors. Several school districts are implementing mandates.
As 12 News reported last week, the Tempe Elementary School District is asking Ducey to repeal the law.
“We expect schools to follow the law,” said Ducey spokesperson CJ Karamargin. “Arizona is not anti-mask. This law makes it clear Arizona is ‘anti-mask mandate’.”
School leaders discussed consequences for violating law
Gestson said he’s had ongoing communication with Ducey’s office about the issue and he is prepared to deal with the consequences of not following the law.
“We spent a lot of time in our system as a governing board, as an executive team talking about the implications. But at the same time we go back to our core values. We go back to our core mission which is, it’s our job to not only educate our broader community but to protect our broader community,” Gestson said.
The district’s 32 zip codes are in “high spread” areas of the state, Gestson said, and the surge of the Delta variant prompted district leaders to consider requiring masks.
“It’s not just about our students and it’s not just about our staff. They go home to siblings, spouses, aunts, uncles, grandparents. It’s our job to protect them as well,” Gestson said.
District holding vaccination clinics for community
The district is taking public health measures even further, hosting vaccination clinics on every campus. Students, with a parent’s permission, have the option to get the vaccine during their lunch break or after school.
The schools have been hosting vaccination clinics since January, leading to more than 30,000 vaccinations of community members, according to a district spokesperson.
“As we watch the delta variant make its way through our community, 99% of those infected are unvaccinated. It’s critically important that we provide widespread access to the vaccine,” Gestson said.
Biology teacher files lawsuit against district
Gestson said students widely acceptive of the mask requirement after spending so much time in remote-learning.
“Our students want to come back to clubs and sports and activities. They want to come back to in-person learning,” Gestson said.
However, a biology teacher is taking the district to court, arguing the district is not above the law. The teacher is asking for a temporary restraining order against the mandate. A court hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.
“We have 1,700 teachers, 4,000 employees,” Gestson said. “Our job is to protect every single person, including that particular teacher. Our job is to understand the science and follow the science.”
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