In June, Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature passed a state budget package that included a controversial provision prohibiting school districts from requiring masks. Gov. Doug Ducey, who for months had emphasized “personal responsibility” over pandemic-related mandates, signed off.

But nearly three months later, details surrounding the timing, implementation and enforcement of the law remain unclear. And as state and local officials argue over the ban’s merit, COVID-19 continues to spread. 

Since students returned to in-person learning in August, districts have reported more than 2,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and required thousands of students to quarantine.

A clear picture of school-based COVID-19 outbreaks has so far proven elusive, given the rapidly evolving situation and the fact that neither the Arizona Department of Health nor the Arizona Department of Education publishes a dashboard of statewide COVID cases in schools. Though some counties and school districts are monitoring outbreaks at the local level, there is no centralized tracking system. 

With your help, AZCIR has set out to provide a more comprehensive, regularly updated picture of where students and staff are contracting COVID-19 across Arizona—and how schools are responding.

Questions? Email covid.edu@azcir.org, or contact AZCIR’s reporters:

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Maria Polletta

EDUCATION

@mpolletta | Email

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Shaena Montanari

HEALTH

@DrShaena | Email


Here’s what we know as of Sept. 16


Which school districts have mask mandates in place?

At least 25 school districts—as well as several higher education institutions—have implemented broad campus mask requirements, arguing they have a duty to protect their students, staff and communities. 

K-12 districts with mask mandates include:

  • Alhambra Elementary School District
  • Amphitheater Public Schools
  • Bouse Elementary District
  • Catalina Foothills School District
  • Chinle Unified School District
  • Creighton Elementary School District
  • Flagstaff Unified School District
  • Ganado Unified School District
  • Glendale Elementary School District
  • Isaac School District
  • Kyrene School District
  • Litchfield Elementary School District
  • Madison Elementary School District
  • Miami Unified School District
  • Nogales Unified School District 
  • Osborn Elementary School District
  • Paradise Valley Unified School District
  • Peach Springs Unified School District
  • Phoenix Elementary School District
  • Phoenix Union High School District
  • Red Mesa Unified School District
  • Riverside Elementary School District
  • Roosevelt School District
  • Sanders Unified School District (age 5+)
  • Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District
  • Scottsdale Unified School District
  • Sierra Vista Unified School District
  • Tempe Elementary School District
  • Tempe Union High School District
  • Tucson Unified School District 
  • Washington Elementary School District
  • Whiteriver Unified School District
  • Window Rock Unified School District

Higher education institutions with mask requirements include:

  • Arizona State University
  • University of Arizona
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Maricopa County Community College District
  • Pima County Community College District 

Other districts have implemented partial mandates that apply only on school buses, on tribal land or when students and staff cannot implement social distancing.

They include:

  • Ash Fork School District
  • Deer Valley Unified School District
  • Fort Thomas Unified School District
  • Glendale Elementary School District
  • Hayden-Winkelman School District
  • Parker Unified School District
  • Peoria Unified School District
  • Page Unified School District
  • Stanfield Elementary School District
  • Tuba City Unified School District

Bullhead City Elementary School District has left open the option of a mask requirement if the COVID-19 situation worsens. 

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When does the state’s ban on school mask requirements take effect?

Though legislators stipulated the ban would apply retroactively, they did not have the two-thirds majority required to circumvent the typical 90-day waiting period. On Aug. 16, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled the ban therefore would not take effect until Sept. 29.

How aggressively will the state enforce the ban? 

Twenty-six Republican lawmakers have asked Ducey to withhold federal funding from and initiate legal action against any district that ignores the ban. They also asked the governor to authorize Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or school vouchers, for all students “trapped” in those districts.

In a public letter dated Aug. 11, they contended a “resounding message must be delivered to any local government or subdivision of the state considering defying state law” that “lawlessness will not be tolerated.”

Do students and staff have to quarantine if they are exposed to COVID in schools? 

That depends; county health departments in Arizona can issue quarantine guidance. 

Maricopa County Department of Public Health, for example, recently began requiring students and staff who came in “close contact” of a known COVID-19 case to quarantine. The county has provided a form letter school officials can use that says those who are not fully vaccinated or have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days are to quarantine (stay) at home for up to 10 days.”

Do schools and child care establishments have to report COVID-19 outbreaks to their local health departments? 

Yes, within 24 hours. 

Which counties have online dashboards or reports tracking COVID in schools? 

Coconino County publishes a COVID-19 school update every Friday that summarizes case rate and percent positivity at district level. 

Maricopa County tracks schools with active and resolved outbreaks in a dashboard, but does not differentiate by school or district. Some districts maintain their own dashboards online.

Pima County tracks cases by school district. This tracker links to some school districts in the county that have their own dashboards, where they further break down case numbers by school. 

Pinal County has a dashboard that shows cumulative cases by the area each school district covers, but not cases specifically from schools. Some school districts maintain their own dashboards online.

While other counties do not have dashboards, some school districts have made their own, such as Kingman Unified School District #20 in Mohave County. 

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Maria Polletta

Maria Polletta is an investigative reporter for AZCIR focused on covering inequities in education.

Shaena Montanari

Shaena Montanari is an investigative reporter for AZCIR focused on covering health disparities. Her position is partially funded by Report for America, a national program that supports local journalists.