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Physicians, educators release guidelines for in-person learning while waiting on AZDHS benchmarks

While the school year has started remotely for now, educators are waiting on benchmarks from the state to figure out when in-person learning can begin.

PHOENIX — The school year is already getting started, online for now, but with the potential for all students to return to class in less than a month.

As that date draws nearer, the education community is waiting on benchmarks expected from the Arizona Department of Health Services to help determine when schools can go back for in-person learning.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order requires AZDHS to release the benchmarks by August 7.

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“We need those guidelines over a month ago. Instead, we are set to receive the state's guidelines during what will be the first week of online school for many districts,” Devin Del Palacio, a Tolleson Union High School District Board Member said.

While waiting for the benchmarks from AZDHS, a group of physicians and educators presented their own set of guidelines for returning to in-person classes that they’d like to see Arizona adopt.

“We do not meet criteria at this time for a safe reopening of our schools for in-person instruction,” Dr. Dionne Mills, an OBGYN and Hospitalist said.

The list compiled by a variety of physicians and educators in Arizona includes benchmarks like adequate testing with a positivity rate of less than 5%, a rapid turnaround for testing results, widespread contact tracing, cases trending down, and enough PPE for teachers and staff among other recommendations.

“We expect clear guidelines of the educational and isolation expectations when a student or staff, not if but when a student or staff member test positive or has a known exposure in or out of the school,” Dr. Susan Hughes, a family practice physician said.

The guidelines go on to detail the goals of everyone in a school being tested before they go back to the classroom in the fall or after a break, and staggering when different grade levels return to in-person classes to see how COVID-19 behaves.

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