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Ducey orders schools to open for students next month

Kathy Hoffman answers questions from reporters on July 23.

(The Center Square) – In one of his latest executive orders, Gov. Doug Ducey requires schools to offer in-person learning for students whose parents request it by Aug. 17.

Many schools expect to reopen next month, but most are maintaining virtual learning until well into the fall semester.

In a release, Ducey said schools must begin offering free on-site learning and support services for students who need a place to go during the day to receive enhanced funding from the state.

“This is especially important given that some parents work in critical and essential occupations and are unable to accommodate virtual teacher-led instruction in their homes,” the release said. “We also know that many children don’t have access to technology. Given income inequality issues in our communities, we must provide on-site learning options and support services for students.”

While seen as a popular choice nationwide to start the fall school year in light of COVID-19 infection fears, virtual learning has been dogged by income inequality, access to technology, and internet access in rural and urban areas. Ducey said in a news conference Thursday that many essential workers with children face significant difficulties finding care while they work.

“You have a very large constituency that has nowhere else to go except to the school,” he said. “Their parent may be one of our front-line health care workers inside the hospital, and they have to go to work.”

Ducey’s office said special attention should be paid to students enrolled in free or reduced-price lunch programs, special education students, English language learners, and those in the Department of Child Safety or foster care.

The Arizona Education Association conducted a poll of their teachers in June. They say 80 percent thought students should “stay at home until public health experts determine it is safe to return and with adequate planning and equipment to protect school employees, students, and families from COVID-19.”

The AEA was not immediately available to respond to the latest order.

State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who attended the news conference with Ducey, said the state would not set a statewide requirement for schools to offer all students in-person instruction.

“Today’s Executive Order provides much-needed guidance and clarity for schools as they prepare for the upcoming academic year,” she said.

Ducey also announced another executive order extending the closure of gyms, bars, and other businesses beyond Monday.

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