Schools have been unmasked

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A young girl secures her mask with loops over her ears. Masks are no longer mandatory at all Graham County schools.

By Jon Johnson

GRAHAM COUNTY – Schools throughout Graham County have lifted their mask regulations in response to Governor Doug Ducey’s Monday Executive Order rescinding his previous order to mandate mask usage in schools.

In Safford, Superintendent AJ Taylor sent an email to parents advising that since masks are no longer mandated the school district will not require the wearing of masks beginning Wednesday, April. 21. 

“Anyone who prefers to continue wearing a mask certainly can and we will work as a school to help students be respectful of personal choices including wearing masks,” Taylor wrote. “Again, beginning Wednesday, April 21, masks will no longer be required for SUSD campuses.” 

In Thatcher, Superintendent Matthew D. Petersen sent out a notice advising that as of Tuesday, April 20, Thatcher’s face covering requirement at all Thatcher school campuses and properties will be optional. 

“As the district superintendent, I am very pleased with the response of the students, staff, parents, and community throughout the last several months,” Peterson wrote. “It is with great excitement that I share my appreciation to the dedication of the governing board, school district faculty and staff, and parents in continuing to provide an appropriate and outstanding editions experience for every student, especially during the last several months.”

In Pima, Superintendent Sean Rickert sent out an email to parents Tuesday morning that advised since the Pima School Board passed its policy requiring face coverings for students and staff only when necessary to be in compliance with the law they will no longer have to wear them at school. 

“Based on this provision, students, staff, and the public are no longer required to wear face coverings while on school premises or at school activities,” Rickert wrote. He also added that while masks are no longer required students can still wear them if they choose to. The Centers for Disease Control still recommend wearing masks while at school since most children cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

In Morenci, Superintendent Dr. David Woodall sent out a notice advising that the governor’s decision came as a surprise and that the school district hasn’t made a decision on its face-covering requirement as of yet. 

“Safeguarding the health of our students and staff is our priority,” Woodall wrote. “Morenci School District has worked closely with local and county health officials through the pandemic. We will be working with these officials over the next few days before reaching a decision.”

Since the San Carlos Apache Reservation is still requiring mask usage, students at in the Fort Thomas School District will have to continue wearing them for the time being as well.

Locally, Graham County has reportedly about 22 percent of its adult residents vaccinated, while Greenlee County is at about 42.5 percent. As of Tuesday morning, Graham County had a confirmed 106 active cases, while Greenlee County had two active cases.

As a state, Arizona has roughly 2 million fully vaccinated persons. Arizona State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman released a statement in opposition to Ducey’s order. 

“Today’s abrupt removal of the mask mandate in schools is just one example in a long line of decisions that have resulted in Arizona’s embarrassing response to a virus that has claimed over 17,000 lives and impacted more.

Children under 16 are still ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines and @cdcgov still recommends universal masking in public schools to ensure safe learning environments. Universal masking – along with other key mitigation strategies – has allowed schools to safely operate during a pandemic. 

While vaccines hold the promise to return to normalcy, letting up on other mitigation strategies now just increases risk of transmission at a time when we should be doing everything possible to keep students and their families safe. 

Today’s announcement destabilizes school communities as they end what has arguably been the most challenging year for education.”