AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin In this June 1, 2020 file photo, Kristina Washington, special education staff member at Desert Heights Preparatory Academy, walks past a series of desks and chairs at the school in Phoenix, returning to her classroom for only the second time since the coronavirus outbreak closed schools.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Schools are no longer required to mandate mask-wearing in the classroom following an order from the governor last month.

Arizona school districts have been deliberating whether to keep mask requirements in place for the final weeks of the school year after Gov. Doug Ducey announced last month that he was rescinding mask mandates for all K-12 schools.

Ducey cited low transmission among younger people as a reason for rolling back the mask mandate, but the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available to children under the age of 16.

The governor’s move saw pushback from some school officials, including Arizona Schools’ Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who called Ducey’s move another in “a long line of decisions” in Arizona’s “embarrassing” response to the pandemic.

As of Monday, Arizona had reported more than 864,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 17,300 deaths. More than 41% of people in the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

All Arizona students over the age of 5 have been required to wear masks at school, on the bus, or at any school-related activity since last July. 

Since the governor’s announcement, Mesa Public Schools, the state’s largest public school district, and Great Hearts Academies, one of the largest charter school networks in the state, announced that masks would be optional moving forward.

Many districts have followed suit, while others opted to keep mask requirements in place. Here’s where the state’s largest school districts currently stand on mask-wearing for the remainder of the school year. 

Mesa Public Schools

The state’s largest school district is officially out for summer on May 20, and so are its mask requirements.

Mesa Public Schools, which serves approximately 59,000 students, will make mask-wearing optional starting Monday.

Masks will be “strongly recommended” but not required in school and district buildings, the district said last Thursday. 

In a statement, the district said that it would continue to monitor and review data in determining whether mask mandates or quarantines will be necessary moving forward.

“Our phased approach proceeds with caution,” superintendent Andi Fourlis said. “Our schools and departments want to help, and we strongly encourage our families and staff to reach out to their leadership for assistance. We are committed to doing all we can to make accommodations.

Chandler Unified School District

The Chandler Unified School District, home to approximately 44,000 students, will still require all K-12 students to wear masks indoors. 

Students in preschool through sixth grade will not have to wear masks during outdoor activities, and students in grades 7-12 do not have to wear masks during supervised outdoor physical education classes.

Depending on if infection rates in the district remain low, the district said it would make masks optional starting on May 31 beginning with summer school.

“Thank you for your continued support of our prevention strategies, which will enable us to finish the school year strong, healthy, and safe,” the district said in a statement.

Tucson Unified School District

Tucson Unified School District, the largest K-12 school district in southern Arizona, said last month that it would still require masks at its schools and on all district properties.

The district was also one of the last in the state to still conduct classes virtually, before Gov. Ducey’s issued an executive order in March requiring that all schools reopen for in-person classes.

Last week in the Vail School District, which also serves portions of Tucson, the school board was forced to cancel its meeting and call police after parents protested the extension of the district’s mask mandate.

The district adjourned its meeting after the crowd of parents became uncontrollable, local ABC affiliate KGUN 9 reported.

Peoria Unified School District

The West Valley’s Peoria Unified School District voted last month to maintain current mitigation measures. 

The district will still require masks for all staff, students, and guests on school and district properties.

The district also said in a statement that it was reviewing the governor’s latest executive order and that its governing board may discuss the mask requirement at a future public meeting.

The district’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, May 13.

“We appreciate your ongoing support as teaching and learning continues through this school year,” the district said in a statement.

Deer Valley Unified School District

The Deer Valley Unified School District, which encompasses parts of north Phoenix and the West Valley, will continue to require masks in schools and district buildings.

However, the district is making adjustments to the mask policy due to the “impending increase in temperatures.”

Masks will be optional for kindergarten through 8th grade during recess or physical education classes that occur outdoors. High school students also do not have to wear a mask during outdoor physical education classes.

The district thanked the “many parents” who reached out to share their perspectives on the mask policy.

“We have heard from parents who both support the continuing use of face masks and those who would like the immediate discontinuation of the policy,” the district said in a statement last week. “Public health experts and the best mitigation practices for students have driven our safety plans this school year.”  

Gilbert Public Schools

Gilbert Public Schools voted last month to keep its current face covering requirement in place through May 28.

The district’s policy requires everyone from students, staff and visitors to wear a mask while on district property.

The policy does not require that students wear masks when they are able to socially distance outdoors and in playground settings. It also allows students to take breaks from wearing masks.

Other mitigation strategies like social distancing, hand washing, and daily health assessments for students and school employees will stay in place.