Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District voted on Tuesday, Aug. 17, to require all students and staff to wear masks indoors. Superintendent Jeff Gregorich shared with the governing board that 50 students are on mandatory quarantine because of 6 positive student cases within the first 6 days of school.
“There is nothing more we can do now but try to reduce the amount of spread within our schools and community. The new COVID-19 variant spreads quickly and taking away the most effective mitigation strategy right now is nonsensical. Without the use of masks indoors, we do not have a fighting chance to protect our students and staff,” added Gregorich.
Governor Ducey has threatened to take away COVID-dedicated federal funding to school districts that fail to adhere with the law he championed that prevents school districts and public entities from issuing mask mandates. The mask mandate restriction was placed onto the budget bill late in June at the last minute to get the approval of several republican holdouts.
“I just don’t understand how the Governor can take away money that was devoted to fighting Covid in our schools. It is a bit strange. I know all school districts are trying to stay open and following CDC recommendation seems logical and is based on science not the next election cycle,” commented Gregorich.
There are other issues with the mask mandate restriction bill, mainly why was there no debate and why was it placed on a budget bill, especially when it did not have anything to do with the topic. Many feel it warranted a bill and name of its own, considering the importance of the legislation and the public interest during a pandemic. Regardless, the bill passed and now prevents school districts and other public entities from passing mask mandates or risk fines and breaking the law. Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District wasn’t the first to pass the mask mandate and won’t be the last, as schools are fighting to stay open as the COVID-19 variant rages through Arizona communities.
Gregorich added,” I believe that preventing school districts from implementing mask requirements is dangerous. The wearing of masks are the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 beyond the vaccination. Unfortunately, many of our students are not eligible yet to be vaccinated. I feel the Governor’s mask mandate restriction is reckless and will lead to more students getting COVID and potentially passing it on to others. In our small community, everyone knows someone that has passed away from COVID and many more that have lasting complications due to the virus. I cannot fathom why the legislature and the Governor created a law that would prevent schools from using the most effective tool we have to help keep students safe and schools open to in-person instruction? I thought that is what we all wanted.”
The good news for the district came on Aug. 13, when a lawsuit filed that challenged the Governor’s restriction on mask mandates by Arizona School Board Association and Arizona Education Association. The Judgment of the courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and allowed school districts the ability to temporarily issue mask mandates in their schools until Sept. 29. The judge ruled against the Governor’s effort to make the law retroactive and go into effect immediately. The litigators also argued against the mask mandate restriction bill being placed onto a budget bill. The litigators believe the mask mandate restriction deserved public debate and discourse, which did not happen.
Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District President Tommy Lagunas said, “I am not a medical expert, but my decision to vote to implement a mask mandate is based on the science and the medical experts. When the CDC and all public health experts and medical associations recommend the wearing of masks for students in schools, maybe we should listen to them, not the politicians. My recommendation and vote to implement mask mandates is about common sense and keeping our children safe. The way I see it is, the Governor’s threat to school districts is unfortunate, political and risks the safety of our students, staff, and community.”