By Corinne Murdock
Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) will implement a mask mandate in defiance of state law. The FUSD Governing Board passed the motion unanimously during Tuesday’s meeting.
FUSD took a similar stance to other school districts implementing a mask mandate, rationalizing that the law doesn’t take effect until September 29, notwithstanding the retroactive clause.
FUSD Superintendent Michael Penca said that he’d struggled with the decision to reinstate a mask mandate.
“Over the last week I’ve asked myself, ‘If the Arizona state law, which prohibits school districts from requiring masks, was not in place, would FUSD be requiring masks?’ With the information that we have about the high rates of community transmission, and recommendations by the CDC and health officials, I believe the answer would be a resounding yes,” said Penca. “With legal guidance from our district attorney tonight regarding the date that this law goes into effect, the FUSD Governing Board has an opportunity to reconsider its previously adopted requirement regarding mask use, which encourages but not requires mask use. In order to balance the benefits of in-person instruction with the health and safety of its students, staff, and our communities.”
However, not all board members appear to have shared Penca’s indecision on mandating masks. Board member Christine Fredericks introduced the motion, spelling out her email and daring parents opposed to the mask mandate to send her hate mail. Fredericks read out loud the proposed mask mandate in full.
“Send me your hate mail. Make sure you spell my name correctly so I get it,” said Fredericks.
Despite the rationale from FUSD and other schools like Phoenix Union High School District (PXU) that Arizona law requires 90 days from the end of the legislative session in order for a law to take effect, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has repeated that the mask mandate ban is in effect.
“Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn’t vaccinated,” said Ducey. “We’ve passed all of this into law, and it will not change.”
Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn’t vaccinated. We’ve passed all of this into law, and it will not change.
See my statement on the updated CDC guidance: https://t.co/YubNffZpq5
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) July 27, 2021
Arizona House Republicans concurred with Ducey’s assessment. Through freshman State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Phoenix), Republicans issued a statement on Wednesday encouraging state officials to hold local governments accountable for breaking the law.
House Republicans encouraged Ducey to withhold federal funding from school districts not complying with the law, authorize temporary Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) for students in schools breaking state law, send notices to all families attending schools non-compliant with the law informing them of the law, and take legal action against the districts.
“Under Arizona’s constitutional form of government, local governments do not have the authority or power to usurp state law simply because they disagree, yet that is precisely the kind of illegal activity in which many local governments are presently engaged. The Arizona legislature, with the Governor concurring, very intentionally enacted the laws at hand to protect Arizonans and Arizona children from the threat of government mandating them to wear a mask or be injected with a vaccine. Additionally, the legislature very thoughtfully attached a retroactivity clause to the law, so that there would be clear and consistent application of the statute for families and children throughout Arizona,” wrote Hoffman. “It borders on anarchy and destabilizes the very foundation of our society to have local governments effectively refusing to comply with the law. It must not be allowed to stand. Any local government that willfully and intentionally flaunts state law must be held accountable.”
— AZ House Republicans (@AZHouseGOP) August 11, 2021
Parent commentary on the mask mandates during the meeting was divided.
Parents in favor of the mask mandates cited their fear that their children would be hospitalized and suffer from long-term effects due to COVID-19. Some said that even one death was one death too many.
Parents against the mask mandates said that the fears over the Delta variant and any COVID spread is overblown. They cited that COVID-19 most greatly impacts the overweight, sickly, and elderly. They also questioned the efficacy and safety of long-term mask-wearing.
Watch the full board meeting here: