PHOENIX — Concerns over the coronavirus pandemic led some schools in Arizona to announce closures on Friday while others opted to remain open. And just days before the Democratic presidential primary there was a tempest over the mailing of ballots while the Legislature considered its next steps in the crisis.
The issue of school closures — or not — had some parents frustrated by what they saw as mixed messages. At least 15 districts have opted to close, according to the Arizona Department of Education. Together, confirmed closures will affect about 60,000 of Arizona’s 1.1 million K-12 students.
Scottsdale Unified School District was among the districts planning to open schools Monday after spring break. Missy Foegal, a mother of four between pre-kindergarten and fifth grade, was outraged.
“I’m keeping my kids home even with the fact they’ve missed a lot of school already,” Foegal said. “We’ve been out of the classroom for a week. That gives us a barrier our district should protect.”
Courtney Mims, who plans to keep her 16-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son at home, said she was puzzled by the district’s statement that children could be absent.
“It’s one thing to say they’re not going to face any consequences. But what about my children’s grades? How are they going to be impacted by this,” Mims said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said district superintendents are under “immense pressure” from parents and teachers to cancel classes, despite the state health department recommendation. Each district is faced with making a difficult decision based on their community situation, she added.
State Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ told superintendents in a conference call Thursday that widespread shutdowns were not necessary because there isn’t a broad spread of the virus.
“We realize that school closures are an important tool for the mitigation of infection diseases, and there may come a time when that recommendation is made for Arizona,” Christ said.
She said closing schools would impact families and nutrition for students who rely on school breakfasts and lunches. But more was at play, she said.
The state’s three public universities and community colleges plan to switch to on-line only instruction.
Meanwhile, Maricopa County election officials took the unprecedented step Friday of ordering ballots for Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary be mailed to voters who normally go to the polls to minimize health risks.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs told County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a fellow Democrat, that he did not have the authority to take such action.
Work at the state Legislature could possibly stop next week because two majority Republican senators needed to pass legislation not backed by Democrats say they will stay home.
Sens. Heather Carter and Paul Boyer told The Associated Press they believe in social distancing.
“I just think we need to get a good grasp of what we’re dealing with before we can confidentially say that we ought to keep our door open,” Boyer said.
Senate President Karen Fann said she would meet with House Speaker Rusty Bowers Monday to determine how to proceed.
Boyer and Carter insisted their decision wasn’t political, pointing to vulnerable family members they wanted to protect. But they broke with fellow Republicans last year and refused to back a budget deal unless one of their priorities was met.
At least two courts in Arizona have taken steps aimed at reducing risks from the coronavirus. All jury trials set to begin in federal courts within the next 30 days have been postponed. The postponed trials include a defamation lawsuit against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
In Maricopa County Superior Court, jury trials and evidentiary hearings are still being held, though judges will try to conduct other hearings by phone.
Arizona currently has nine confirmed cases of COVID-19. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Associated Press writers Paul Davenport, Jacques Billeaud and Jonathan J. Cooper contributed to this report.