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Masks mandate unanimously approved for TUSD in defiance of state law

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TUCSON (KVOA) - As students and teachers gear up to return to the classroom, the largest school district in southern Arizona unanimously voted Wednesday to require masks while inside its buildings.

All Tucson Unified School District students, teachers and staff will be required to wear face coverings.

This decision was made in light of state lawmakers passing HB-2898 - a ban on mask mandates in June. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey correspondingly signed it into law on June 30. As new Arizona laws go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns, the statewide mask mandate ban at schools is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 28 - well after Wednesday, TUSD's first day of school.

Last week, the CDC recommended that indoor masks be worn indoors in parts of the country classified as having substantial or high transmission, citing a surge of infections from the delta variant. It included all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide regardless of vaccination status.

Despite the new federal guidelines, the governor said Arizona won't be making any changes to its COVID-19 policies.

TUSD passed its mask mandate during an emergency governing board meeting held Wednesday morning.

According to the Associated Press, TUSD joined four other Arizona districts in requiring a mandatory mask rule in opposition to the recently enacted state law.

Phoenix Elementary School District approved the mandatory on Monday, while Phoenix Union High School District approved one last week. The Osborn and Roosevelt districts said their boards approved similar requirements Tuesday, according to the AP.

Gov. Doug Ducey released the following statement in response to the school districts implementing their own mask mandate, despite state law.

We expect school districts to follow the law and the law is clear the legislative intent is clear. they passed a law banning mask mandates the governor signed it. it goes into effect September 28th and it is retro active. So school districts seem to be attempting to take advantage of a perceived loophole.

Gov. Doug Ducey

"My whole thing is that really if we can save one child from ending up in the pediatric ICU then why wouldn't you just minimally put a mask on," TUSD Governing Board Member Adelita Grijalva said.

Later Wednesday afternoon, Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams made a public request asking the governor to rescind HB-2898 and follow the updated CDC guidelines.

“Governor Ducey made a politically motivated decision that puts our students and educators in danger. Schools need local control to keep our students safely learning in the classroom. I support our schools in doing what they need to do to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, families, and educators. I’m asking Gov. Ducey to follow CDC guidelines and rescind his law on no mask mandates immediately.”

Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams 

State health officials have been reporting a significant climb in virus cases over the last few weeks, seeing 2,286 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths on Wednesday alone. This brought the overall state totals to 935,647 cases and 18,289 deaths.

"We made a pledge to you that we would never waiver from viewing this issue as a public health crisis not through a political lens not through a partisan lens not through the lens of special interest groups and I believe that the governing boards actions this morning have reflected that," TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said.

TUSD's starts its 2021-2022 school year Thursday.

For more information, visit Tucson Unified School District (tusd1.org).

This is a developing story.

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Julia Leon

Julia is a Digital Content Producer for KVOA- News 4 Tucson. In 2018, she earned a bachelor’s of arts degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.

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