In August 2020, the Arizona Dept. of Health Services (AZDHS) established three benchmarks for school districts to assess opening in-person, staying virtual, or opting for a hybrid model.

The three benchmarks were (1) a two-week decline in the number of cases or two weeks with new case rates less than per 100 per 100,000 population; (2) testing positivity of 7% or lower for two weeks; and (3) two weeks of declining hospitalizations. Santa Cruz County met all three benchmarks in September 2020, and schools in Elgin and Patagonia have begun in-person instruction. The Patagonia Union High School opened for a few weeks but has returned to virtual high school due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the students. (two positive cases not from the same household). Patagonia Middle and Elementary Schools remain open for in-person instruction.

In August AZDHS guidelines stated that schools were expected to evaluate their decision to reopen if any ONE of the benchmarks had changed to substantial risk for consecutive two weeks.

During the week of Oct. 25, however, AZDHS changed the metrics so that school districts would have the option to continue in-person instruction until all THREE benchmarks showed substantial risk.

Currently, the state and Santa Cruz County are showing an increase in cases, testing positivity, and hospitalizations. When asked by journalists at an Oct. 29 press conference, Governor Ducey said that the decision to change the metrics was based on input from stakeholders in the education community. Schools will continue to make decisions based on their local district and with help from their local health department, said Ducey.

However, it appears that Kathy Hoffman, AZ Superintendent of Education, was not involved in this decision. She posted a statement shortly after the press conference, clarifying that the “AZ Dept. of Education did not request or recommend any changes to AZDHS school benchmarks.”