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Unlike this time last year, when the state grappled with the surge of thousands of daily COVID cases, the number of cases has remained low at around 50 cases per 100,000 for the past two months. With about half of Arizonans vaccinated with at least one dose and state and local mandates loosening restrictions, educators are preparing for a mostly in-person school year and optional masking.

After more than a year of students and educators dealing with remote learning, hybrid instruction and in-person learning, students and staff from Marana and Amphi will begin the new school year with fixed in-person learning.

Marana Unified School District will return to in-person learning the coming school year with no remote option. But will continue to offer Marana Distance Learning, a self-paced, online program for students in grades 4-12, said Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement Alli

Benjamin.

Like Marana, Amphitheater Public Schools District will offer full in-person learning while also offering full online education through Amphi Academy Online, their K-12 online school, said Amphi Director of Communications Michelle

Valenzuela.

Both Marana and Amphi school districts continue to follow the same COVID-19 mitigation strategies as before, like physical distancing, encouraging hand hygiene, ensuring cleaning and sanitizing, as well as monitoring and communicating with the district about COVID-19 cases.

Marana district school leadership continues to review and update mitigation plans, but have not approved them, said Benjamin. The school welcomes visitors to campus so long as they are symptom-free, but does not survey them or check their temperature. Schools in the district have also added more bottle-fill fountains.

Aside from summer school, Amphi currently runs their Summer Institute, which offers professional development classes for staff to enhance their skills. Once teachers return from summer break, Valenzuela said they will have an opportunity to review assessment data for students and work with their teams to determine any additional support students may need.

According to Valenzuela, Amphi has no

limitations or restrictions for lunches and recess and will not limit spectators for school events or require masks.

However, MUSD will continue to stagger lunches and recesses and outdoor seating will be encouraged to allow for physical distancing. Tables will be disinfected between uses. Similar to Amphi, Marana will allow recesses without any limitations, but teachers will encourage hand-washing and sanitizing when students return to class.

In the midst of summer school, on June 30, Governor Doug Ducey signed a budget passed by the Arizona Legislature, which included provisions that would block schools and universities from requiring masks.

In a virtual panel organized by the Committee to Protect Health Care, a national organization advocating for quality and affordable health care, Arizona doctors and experts criticized the Arizona legislature and Ducey’s decision to ban masking in schools.

Much of the concern centered on the fact that children younger than 12 are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and can still get sick and spread the virus, especially with the rise in the Delta strain in

Arizona.

“There really just is no justification in my mind for putting not only their children but also school teachers and staff at risk,” said Tucson family physician Dr. Cadey Harrel. “We know with Delta, that even those that are vaccinated, are still at risk of breakthrough cases. They are not completely 100% immune, no vaccine provides 100% immunity.”

The Arizona Department of Health Services reports 17% of the population younger than 20 years old have been vaccinated with at least one dose in Arizona. Those 12 and older are currently eligible for vaccination and only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use on children 12 to 17.

On Friday, July 9, the CDC updated school guidelines, encouraging in-person learning and recommending individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated to continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.

Under the law passed as a part of the state budget, local school boards cannot mandate unvaccinated individuals wear masks. While schools cannot require masks, Marana continues to encourage masks for unvaccinated individuals and students and staff can still choose to mask.

On May 27, prior to the passage of the state budget, Marana Unified School District board voted to make face coverings optional for all staff, students, vendors, visitors and volunteers.

Benjamin reports the majority of employees are not using masks and mask usage among students participating in summer programs varies by site. However she said about one-third of students district-wide have continued to wear face coverings since they made them

optional.

Before the budget’s passage, Amphi had heard from parents on both sides of the mask

debate.

“We did hear from families who were not comfortable with masks not being required,” Valenzuela said in an email response. “Now, our families seem to understand it is out of our hands.”

Amphi must also make masks optional for all, but Valenzuela said “anyone who wishes to wear a mask will be allowed to do so.”

Marana Unified School District has paused tracking of its cases during the summer and as of May 20, the last day it was updated, had one active case at MCAT High School from the more than 14,000 students and staff in the district. Amphi school district continues to update their COVID-19 dashboard during the summer, but has changed the updates to once a week unless they have cases to report. Since their last update on June 30, the district has no reported cases.

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