Arizona Department of Education task force to release its guidelines for reopening schools on Monday

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Federal and state officials across the country have altered or hidden public health data crucial to tracking the coronavirus’ spread, hindering the ability to detect a surge of infections as President Trump demands the nation to reopen rapidly. Bad state data hides coronavirus threat as Trump pushes reopening:

In at least a dozen states, health departments have inflated testing numbers or deflated death tallies by changing criteria for who counts as a coronavirus victim and what counts as a coronavirus test, according to reporting from POLITICO, other news outlets and the states’ own admissions. Some states have shifted the metrics for a “safe” reopening; Arizona sought to clamp down on bad news at one point by simply shuttering its pandemic modeling. About a third of the states aren’t even reporting hospital admission data — a big red flag for the resurgence of the virus.

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“All these stories about undercounts, overcounts, miscounts, are undermining our ability to deal with the pandemic,” said Irwin Redlener, a public health expert at Columbia University. The country, he said, is confronting an “unheard of level of chaos in the data, the protocols, the information.”

As Michael Bryan has documented on this blog, Governor Ducey consistently lies about Arizona’s COVID-19 status, Here and Here. The governor is knowingly endangering public health for political motivations.

The GOP-friendly media in this state stenographically reports what the governor says at his weekly press conferences without directly confronting him with aggressive questioning about his easily discernible lies.

The media will later report that the COVID-19 statistics do not support the governor’s overly optimistic projections. Just this weekend, The Arizona Republic reported COVID-19 emergency room visits have been climbing in Arizona; hit high point this week, and the Arizona Daily Star reported Despite early indications, coronavirus cases in Arizona still rising.

So Governor Ducey lied and is knowingly endangering public health for political motivations.

Governor Doug Ducey and AZ DHS Director Dr. Cara Christ

This is critical to know, because on Thursday, Governor Ducey announced that Arizona schools will reopen late this summer, pretty much no matter what is going on with COVID-19. Now he is directly endangering the lives of children for political motivations – YOUR children.

The governor and Cara Christ, his health director, acknowledged the risk of having children together in classrooms. That’s why schools were shuttered on March 15.

But Christ said it isn’t that simple.

“There’s a lot of public health reasons why we would want kids in school,” she said. “They provide a lot more services than just education.”

Still, she conceded, it is a bit of a balancing test.

“Schools provide nutrition, they provide safe environments, they provide physical activity,” Christ said. “All of this is important for the ongoing health of these kids, especially as they grow.”

That, she said, requires looking at it “from a holistic public health approach.”

“We are weighing it against the risk of transmission of the virus and that’s one of the things we’re taking into account,” Christ said. That includes “flexibility” to provide alternatives to students — and faculty — who may themselves be at risk or have family members and finding ways to keep them safe “while we’re still meeting the needs of the children.”

So we lose some children here and there to multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) – a complication of COVID-19 in children – sacrificing YOUR child, from a holistic point of view, is a good thing. “You can always make another child.” And if your asymptomatic child brings COVID-19 home to their grandma or grandpa, hey, “it’s God’s will, it was their time.” How the hell does this woman still have a job?

And let’s not forget the underpaid teachers who are being asked to risk their lives to teach these little COVID incubators. What is the plan to protect teachers and school staff? They have families too, and many of them have at-risk health conditions.

Ducey defended the decision to make that announcement about August reopenings on Thursday, even with the state still in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls Phase 1. That is the earliest stage of reopening both the economy and public activity which involves not just social distancing but also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 in any one place.

“We need parents and teachers and superintendents to be prepared,” he said of the announcement.

Some of the details of how this all will work will come [Monday]. State schools chief Kathy Hoffman on Thursday promised to issue “guidance to serve as a roadmap for preparing for a variety of learning options that keep students and teachers safe.”

“This documents … will provide adaptable, flexible recommendations, considerations and resources for districts and charters to plan for the upcoming year,” Hoffman said.

Public schools aside, the governor gave the go-ahead for summer camps to open as early as this coming week.

Yeah! We get to go to COVID Camp this summer!”

That, however, is for the moment going to be limited to day camps. And they will have to operate under guidelines to be issued by the state.

And the governor also announced that youth sports can return to Arizona immediately.

But here, too, it won’t look the same as before.

Christ said there will be definite limits on the number of parents and spectators who will be able to go to games. And she said there will be other changes, like cleaning commonly used equipment between players, no hanging around before or after the games, and requiring adults to wear a mask where possible.

Separately, the governor said that Prescott Frontier Days will be able to continue, uninterrupted, for the 133rd year, allowing it to keep its record as the world’s oldest rodeo. But Ducey said the question of whether anyone will be allowed in the stands to watch remains undecided.

The announcements came as the governor acknowledged that there has been an upward tick in the percent of COVID-19 tests that are coming back positive. It went from 5.1 percent for the period ending May 10 to 6 percent a week after that and 6.8 percent for the most recent week. Still, Ducey said he remains optimistic.

“If you look at this chart you can possibly see the beginning of a downward trend,” Ducey said.

Yes, “if I turn the chart on its side and squint, I can see the beginning of a downward trend.” How was this not a WTF moment for the media, followed by aggressive questioning?

“The trend is not here yet,” the governor conceded. And then there’s the fact that it can take up to seven days for the state to get complete numbers from laboratories.

“This is something that we’ll continue to monitor,” he said.

The big announcement — and the big questions — all surround having students return to the classroom. Ducey said this decision is being made from “a public health perspective” as he shunted questions off to Christ.

No, his decisions are not being made from a public health perspective, but out of political motivations.

“We know that we’ve had daycare and child care in place where kids have been in a congregate setting,” she said. And Christ said that, in discussions with school officials, they already are coming up with plans for how to deal with 1.1 million youngsters returning to classrooms.

Some of that, she said, is focused on children or teachers who are “at risk,” providing for distance or “virtual” learning.

Also key, Christ said, are smaller class sizes and disinfecting protocols “and a lot of safety things put into place.”

Which brings me to the point I made in a previous post: the schools are being asked to do far more than educate children, so how does the state propose to pay for all of these extras at the same time the state is taking a substantial hit to its finances from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic? Arizona already does not properly fund public education. And when there is an economic downturn, public education is always the first and deepest cut to be made in the budget.

Several sources say Arizona schools have larger class sizes than most other states. Physical space requirements aside, schools also will need to purchase supplies like hand sanitizer.

“That was definitely a part of the discussion that we had with superintendents, what were the needs of the schools, how would we work on flexibility for people with that underlying health condition, and what the cost would be,” Ducey said.

The governor said that there is money in the state budget as well as about $1 billion in Arizona’s “rainy-day fund.” On top of that, Ducey said the federal government is providing coronavirus relief dollars for education.

“So we do have some options,” he said. “And we’ll want to make the proper decisions so that we can successfully reopen our schools in a safe way for our kids, their teachers, the staff and the employees,” he said.

The Arizona Republic adds, Schools will reopen in the fall. School leaders are asking for help from lawmakers:

On Monday, an Arizona Department of Education task force is planning to release guidelines for reopening. The task force includes educators, principals, school nurses, superintendents and charter school leaders, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

The group has been meeting since early May.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Kathy Hoffman, superintendent of public schools, announced in mid-March that the state’s schools would shutter. Since then, most schools used distance learning models to finish out the year, holding class virtually or having students pick up packets of work.

Virtual learning might still have to be an option for some students, especially those with underlying conditions who might be more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The idea is around flexibility, that we maintain the idea of distance learning where needed,” Ducey said in a briefing Thursday.

While plans to reopen are underway, many school leaders worry that school budgets will not be stable.

State legislators need to revise the state’s funding formula “immediately” in light of the pandemic, Quinn Kellis, superintendent of the Dysart Unified School District, said. The governor would have to call a special legislative session for that to happen.

“We would appeal to our legislators … to be really considerate of what needs to be done,” Kellis said.

[The] state education funding formula relies on student attendance. If attendance plunges for a school district or charter, so will funding. Schools typically get some funding for virtual school, but not as much as they would if students attended in person.

That could be a challenge for schools if they choose to adopt a hybrid model through the pandemic, where some school is conducted online and some is conducted in person.

Mark Joraanstad, executive director of Arizona School Administrators, said some parents already have told school leaders that their students won’t immediately return to in-person classes.

One superintendent anticipates 20% of students to stay home when the year begins, Joraanstad said.

“If 20% don’t show up, then you lose 20% of your budget,” Joraanstad said.

If the COVID-19 infection rate is going up this fall, signs of the dreaded “second wave,” the state may have to shut down the schools again out of public safety. What is your plan then, governor? This must be part of the school reopening plan.

Can schools socially distance kids?

Arizona has one of the highest student-to-teacher ratios in the nation, and teachers have said they’re concerned it will be hard to keep kids spaced out to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Classrooms are usually about 900 square feet, Kellis said. With no solution to shrink class sizes, keeping kids six feet apart isn’t realistic.

The CDC also recommends keeping students in the same place most of the day.

“For a high school classroom, that’s impossible, because students have six different subjects in six different directions every day,” he said.

What about feeding students in the school cafeteria? What about physical education classes that require students to shower afterwards? And team sports – “cleaning commonly used equipment between players” – what exactly does that mean? Are you going to wipe down the football, basketball, baseball, etc. after every time a player touches the ball? That’s not practical.

The Post reports:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends requiring masks for staff members and encouraging them for children. It suggests no-touch trash cans, cleaning school surfaces, buses and playground equipment daily, allowing fewer children on buses, and checking student and staff temperatures daily.

And just how does Arizona propose to do this? America’s startling school nurse and counselor shortage: An overwhelming majority of schools in the U.S. lack nurses and counselors to help students in need, per a 2019 ACLU report from Education Department data on every school district.

“We know that it will cost more to return to school,” said Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country. “It will cost more because we need to invest in protective equipment. It will cost more because schools need to not just be cleaned but sanitized. The mental health crisis in the communities will come to the schools when we reopen. We need more nurses and counselors to support students.”

“The math simply will not work,” said district spokesman Andrew Sharp. “We cannot ask schools to do more at the same time as their funding is being slashed.”

The Special Session yet to be announced to deal with the budget shortfall will have to address these issues. Budget cuts to public education must be off the table. Increased funding will be needed.

Reporters, legislators, educators and parents should be asking hard questions and demanding answers when the Arizona Department of Education task force releases its guidelines for reopening schools on Monday.