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MARICOPA — The Maricopa Unified School District is continuing to allow families to make most of their own decisions when it comes to potential spread of COVID-19.

At the Aug. 11 Governing Board meeting, the district discussed and approved its latest COVID mitigation strategies, which come with a lot of optional measures. The only requirement listed is that any student or staff member who tests positive for the virus must isolate for 10 days. Families will then be notified if their student might have been exposed to it, at which point they can choose whether to quarantine that student.

Masks remain optional on school sites, while social distancing and frequent hand washing are encouraged. Transportation schedules have also returned to what they were before COVID.

Should there be an outbreak, which is two or more positive cases in any individual classroom, the district said masks will still be optional but “strongly” encouraged, but there will be increased monitoring of social distancing and schedules will be rearranged to minimize contact with other classrooms. Only if a classroom were to have five or more positive cases would the district consider mandating the whole class quarantine.

To keep the public informed about the spread of the virus in the district, MUSD has a dashboard with numbers from each school that are updated every Friday at 4 p.m.

The highest percentage of students and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 is from Santa Cruz Elementary, where nine active cases make up 1.34%. Maricopa High School has the highest total, at 13 cases, but that makes up just 0.44% of the people on site.

Board member Torri Anderson raised concerns of what would happen should there be a shortage of teachers due to COVID absences, worried that teachers could be overwhelmed by doubling up on classes. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said the number used last school year was 10-15% of staff being absent could lead to a school closure, but she doesn’t want to commit to that because there are requirements about the number of in-person days.

Board President Ben Owens said he would personally like to see a mask mandate, but he knows that “wouldn’t fly” as district policy under state law.

During the call to the public, parent Jeremiah Young chastised organizations and school districts for being “sheep” with knee-jerk reactions to every recommendation put out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization. He said while the district is not proposing a mask mandate, he would not be allowing his children to go to school with masks on.

“Ultimately, my job up here is not to make health decisions for students, it never was,” said board member AnnaMarie Knorr. “Unfortunately, last year I had to and I didn’t appreciate it one bit. … And while I appreciate the feelings on masks, with my elementary students and seeing their test scores, I don’t want them to mask because they’re already severely behind in reading and ELA (English language arts). I don’t think a mask is helping them, so I choose not to put a mask on them, because I feel like them learning to read is more important. That’s my choice as a parent, and that’s a choice every parent gets to make.”

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