A survey of Kyrene families and staff released last week shows a slim majority of parents and guardians support the district’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies – including mandatory masks.
While Gov. Doug Ducey has said he will withhold $5.2 million in federal pandemic relief funds from the district – and $2.8 million from Tempe Union – for imposing a mask mandate at least until Sept. 29, the survey shows 53 percent of 7,059 responding families thought Kyrene’s strategies are “just right.”
Asked to rate its safety measures, another 22 percent of responding families said they are “not strong enough,” 19 percent thought them “too strong” and 7 percent had no opinion.
The survey also showed 63 percent of families said they would have their children vaccinated against COVID-19 when a vaccine for children under 12 is available. Of the remaining families, 21 percent said no and 17 percent declined to answer.
Kyrene said it emailed or texted a total 21,549 surveys, with one going to a parent or guardian “per school level of children.” Of that total, it received 8,174 responses.
Besides the 1,115 staff, that total broke down to 4,261 elementary parents, 2,407 middle school parents, and 391 parents of kids in the K-8 program. The district has 10337 unique home addresses for active students.
The survey comes at a time when Ducey is at war with a number of districts that imposed mask mandates after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled last month that the ban on mandates passed by Republicans in the Legislature cannot take effect until Sept. 29.
Kyrene Superintendent Laura Toenjes has indicated the district will obey the law when it takes effect. Tempe Union has declined comment on what it will do.
The latest data released last week by the county health department shows the district remains at the highest level of transmission of the virus with 230 cases per 100,000 and positive new test results at 10.9 percent. Those numbers have essentially remained the same for two weeks.
In that transmission range, 58 percent of parent respondents said they “strongly agree” that Kyrene should require masks on a school-by-school basis. Another 14 percent agreed for a total 72 percent in favor of a selective mask mandate.
Among the other parents who replied, 11 percent strongly disagreed and 6 percent of disagreed on the issue of mask mandates.
Ducey’s threat to withhold funding took a severe hit late last week when the White House said local school districts can apply directly to the federal government “to restore funding withheld by state leaders.”
The new policy was announced by President Joe Biden as part of a six-point plan that will include mandatory vaccinations or tests for teachers and for workers in large companies, among other measures, to check the surging number of COVID-19 cases.
Ducey called Biden’s school policy as “dictatorial” and “un-American.”
“Today marks another egregious big government overreach robbing Arizonans and all Americans of their fundamental rights to make their own decisions about their health and the health of their children,” Ducey said.
But Biden, without naming names Thursday, said school districts that are trying to keep their students safe should not have to put up with a governor who “picks a fight with them and even threatens their salary and job.”
“Talk about bullying in schools,”
The proposal was welcomed by Arizona Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, a vocal critic of Ducey’s plan to punish schools that require masks or vaccinations. She tweeted that the White House plan is “broadly supported by a majority of Arizonans.”
“Controlling the virus has always been the key to ensuring safe in-person learning,” her tweet said. “Enough political games – our focus must be on accelerating student learning and helping schools recover.”
One Arizona health official said he believes the school section of Biden’s plan was driven in part by anti-masking efforts of Republican governors like Ducey.
“I think this White House decision was informed greatly by what Gov. Ducey did by disqualifying schools from funding if they are using masking as a mitigation effort,” said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and the former state health director.
According to the most recent data from the state Department of Health Services, Arizonans under age 20 account for 18 percent of positive COVID-19 cases in the state – a number that Humble blames on Ducey’s decision to withhold funds from schools implementing mitigation efforts.
(Cronkite News contributed to this report)