Arizona state leadership has passed a law against two proven COVID-19 mitigation strategies that now directly affect our youngest learners who are not eligible for vaccines.
Further, some leaders successfully encouraged the governor to withhold federal COVID-19 relief funding if local school boards put mitigation strategies deemed effective by the broad recognized medical community, state universities, and our state health department, into practice.
With transmission rising and a more contagious variant, we now find ourselves between a rock and hard place:
•We cannot mandate proven effective mitigation strategies without breaking the law;
•If we break the law, we lose federal COVID-19 relief funding that is critical to implementing our other relief and mitigation strategies such as pay for substitutes and staff coverage, facility maintenance/cleaning costs, additional online learning equipment and personnel, as well as educational support to make up for last year’s learning loss.
For those of you frustrated by this situation, I am too.
And while I believe that mandating vaccines for those eligible — now FDA approved — and indoor masking would be extremely helpful, at this point we have not had a strong recommendation from our administration or staff to move this direction, nor does it seem likely that it would be passed by the school board.
A mandate on masks would likely only trigger additional turmoil for our staff during an already stressful year. Teachers and staff should not have to be the mask police, nor be subject to additional challenges from parents and community members.
That is not fair to them.
And because of transmission and continuing absences of both staff and students, we are even more in need of federal COVID-19 funding to continue learning opportunities — be they in person or potentially online — as we continue through this pandemic.
At this point, I am urging us all to be our best as a community if we want in-person classes, performances, social events and sporting events to happen for our kids.
We must be our best if we want to slow spread in the rest of the community and to save lives.
Consistent masking and vaccinations are taken into consideration by the county and the AIA when determining quarantine protocols. If we want to keep our kids in school and programs afloat, why wouldn’t we do this and do it willingly?
Social distancing, quarantine protocols, hand hygiene, enhanced cleaning and staying home when sick are critical to everyone.
With our hands tied in other ways, we need to put our best foot forward in implementing and holding ourselves accountable to the mitigation strategies we can require and implement both as a district and as individuals for our students.
Editor’s note: Cory Underhill is a Peoria Unified School District governing board member.