An advisor for Governor Doug Ducey sent letters Wednesday to two Arizona school superintendents letting them know their policies of requiring unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine is illegal. Education policy advisor Kaitlin Harrier told the superintendents of Peoria Unified School District and Catalina Foothills School District their policies violate a new law, HB 2898, which states, “A school district or charter school may not require a student or teacher to receive a vaccine for covid-19 or to wear a face covering to participate in in-person instruction.”
Harrier went on, “The policy must be rescinded immediately.” She pointed out that children under age 12 haven’t even received approval from the federal government to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Children ages 12-15 only received approval for the vaccine in May.
The schools sent the new policy to families in their districts. Catalina Foothills School District Superintendent Mary Kamerzell implemented a 14-day quarantine for those students, while Peoria Unified School District Superintendent Jason Reynolds set up a 10-day quarantine.
Catalina Foothills School District responded to the letter, “Like other public school districts, we do not write our own COVID-19 isolation and quarantine guidance policy. We use the practices set forth in the Arizona Department of Health Services Release from Isolation and Quarantine Guidance. We are perplexed by the letter, as it seems to indicate that the current ADHS guidance to K-12 schools is not in compliance with state law. We will definitely follow up with the ADHS and the PCHD for their review.”
The ADHS provides guidance that says, “A person who had known close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case should quarantine for 14 days from their last exposure to the case. However, individuals may be eligible for shortened quarantine or may not be required to quarantine if certain conditions are met.” Those conditions appear to include having the vaccine.
The guidelines go on to say “[v]accinated persons with an exposure to someone with COVID-19 do not need to quarantine” if they are asymptomatic and are not a patient in a healthcare setting.
Multiple sources at the State Capitol said that Ducey’s position on this changed. When conservatives in the House attempted to add the prohibition language during the legislative session in an amendment, Ducey and legislative leadership fought it. However, the conservatives, nicknamed “The Hawks” by the Arizona Capitol Times Yellow Sheet, held firm, threatening not to support the K-12 budget bill unless the language was included. They believed it was a backdoor way to force the vaccine on people, which their constituents would object to.
State Rep. Jacqueline Parker (R-Mesa) said, “I received feedback from thousands of concerned parents about the trauma their kids had suffered during the most recent school year because of mask mandates & shut down orders. Those same parents had begun contacting me with growing fears of the threat of experimental vaccines being forced on their children in order to attend in-person learning in the coming year.”
She explained that some legislators thought exceptions for religion and conscientious reasons were enough. “Others in the caucus felt that existing law was sufficient, but our small group of hawks refused to stand idly by knowing that school districts would find a way around those laws to infringe on the healthcare freedom of students and families.”
The schools’ policy isn’t much different from how the federal government wants to handle the issue. The CDC issued new guidelines on July 9 which treat unvaccinated people differently. They provide, “people who are fully vaccinated do not need to participate in screening testing and do not need to quarantine if they do not have any symptoms.” Additionally, they state that masks should be worn at school by students who are not vaccinated.
A significant percentage of the population opposes getting the COVID-19 vaccine. A poll in March found that 30 percent of Americans do not intend to get the vaccine. Among Republicans, 41 percent oppose it. So far, despite campaigns by the government that include lottery prizes, only 49 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, with 56 percent receiving at least one dose. In Arizona, 44 percent are fully vaccinated. According to the CDC, 6,079 people died in the U.S. after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Many schools allow families who are deeply concerned about COVID-19 to enroll their children in virtual learning in order to avoid the conflict.
The Arizona Legislature passed the law in June, which also prohibits Arizona schools from requiring masks as a way to mitigate COVID-19 infections. A similar bill, SB 1825, prohibits colleges and universities from requiring masks or vaccinations.
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