AFN NEWS STAFF
Face masks will be optional for all Tempe Union and Kyrene School District students as of the first day of school on July 29.
In a letter to parents June 16, Kyrene Superintendent Laura Toenjes noted that some families were awaiting an announcement on the district’s mask policy before deciding “whether to enroll in an in-person Kyrene school or in Kyrene Digital Academy.”
But she also noted that children involved in summer school and other programs inside Kyrene buildings this summer must continue to wear masks.
In those cases, Toenjes said, parents may have sent their kids to summer programs because masks were required.
“Out of respect for those families, current safety protocols will remain in place throughout the summer, including the use of face coverings indoors,” she wrote.
Tempe Union Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil also announced that masks will be optional when a full five-day-a-week school year begins Aug. 2.
Both districts will offer an online-only option to students, but will not offer a combined virtual-classroom hybrid option.
Masks have been mandatory for all Kyrene and Tempe Union staff, visitors and students since the new school year began last August.
Toenjes acknowledged that Kyrene has been waiting for updated guidance on masks from the Centers for Disease Control. But since that guidance has not come, she said, “we are moving forward with planning for the new school year.”
But Toenjes urged, “In continued alignment with both the CDC and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH), Kyrene strongly recommends face coverings for children under 12 and any other unvaccinated individual.”
Masks had been mandatory for Kyrene since the now-ended school year began in mid-August.
About a month ago, the district altered that policy by making them optional on campus outside school buildings, leaving Tempe Union the only district still requiring masks outside buildings but on campus.
Toenjes also noted that since masks became optional in Arizona for local governments and businesses, “we have observed no increase in community spread in our Kyrene boundaries.”
“In anticipation of that trend continuing through summer, we are confident that we can create safe learning environments with optional face coverings,” she wrote.
Toenjes also noted that “many other organizations that bring children together for activities and sports outside of our Kyrene campuses are no longer enforcing masks.”
“We recognize that face coverings in school will not have as much impact on reducing community spread as in the 2020-21 school year,” she said. “We have been so relieved to see the data hold steady as our community reopens.”
Toenjes also stressed that the district supports families ad staff that still want to continue wearing masks, adding “It will be a top priority on every campus to create safe environments for students to flourish not only academically but also socially and emotionally.”
Toenjes also said her emergency management team “is finalizing plans for a two-tiered structure for safety protocols, depending on the level of community spread.”
Both districts’ governing boards have been the target of numerous complaints form both sides of the mask controversy, though in recent months more parents opposed to the mandatory mask policy have voiced their objections.
At least a few parents also seemed unaware of the districts’ changes in mask policy.
On June 16 at the Tempe Union Governing Board meeting – hours after Mendivil’s announcement – at least one parent in person condemned mandatory masks and threatened to serve “affidavits” on board members if it wasn’t changed.