In a joint statement, Governor Doug Ducey and State Superintendent for Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said concerns about staffing and absences over the novel coronavirus have led them to announce the statewide closure, which runs through March 27.
The move reverses a recommendation — made just three days ago by state health officials — to keep schools open. By the time of the announcement, several districts had already canceled or postponed classes.
Arizona follows more than 20 other states that have shut down public schools to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
We’re joining together to keep Arizona’s kids, families, and school communities safe and healthy. Arizona is united, and we’ll get through this. @Supt_Hoffman @azedschools #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/B5PbYldejp— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) March 15, 2020
“As more schools announce closures and education administrators express staff shortages within their schools, now is the time to act," Ducey said. "A statewide closure is the right thing to do. While this measure will not stop the spread of COVID-19, it will bring certainty and consistency in schools across Arizona.”
In their statement, Ducey and Hoffman said the state is working with the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure that students who receive free and reduced-price lunches will continue to receive meals. The statement further advises that students should stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For children who do not have the option of staying home, officials said they are coordinating with nonprofits and faith-based organizations to make childcare options available.
“The health and safety of all our students is our top priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep our school doors open — schools provide important services and many families rely on them for nutrition, access to health care and in order to do their own jobs,” said Superintendent Hoffman
Ducey and Hoffman said they are working on a plan to ensure school employees "don’t see any disruption to their pay."
Governor Ducey also announced that Arizona is following a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cancel all gatherings of 50 people or more.
"Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings & other types of assemblies," Ducey said in a tweet. "This recommendation does not apply to the day to day operation of organizations such as institutes of higher learning or businesses and applies to events of 50 people or more."