April 3, 2020

Stay-at-home order, distance learning extended, COVID-19 updates in Spanish

Plus, next steps for the Pima County Board of Supervisors after the death of Chairman Richard Elías.

Arizona enacted a statewide stay-at-home order this week to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The order will remain in effect through April 30 and stipulates in part that Arizonans limit their time away from home except for activities related to services and functions deemed essential by the state. Defying the order can lead to a misdemeanor citation. Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus discussed the department’s approach to enforcing the order.

“We see this as a health issue, not a criminal justice or legal issue. Our goal is not to go out there and cite a bunch of people,” Magnus said. “Our plan, and this is what we’ve already been doing, is to talk to people to try and gain their cooperation, to try to get them to understand that not only are they compromising their own health and safety but they could do real harm to other people.”

Magnus also discussed precautions his officers are taking during the pandemic and the department’s own challenges securing enough masks.

“We have people even standing in line at businesses where we might think there might be available masks,” Magnus said. “We asked for 80,000 masks from the last strategic shipment that was coming from the federal government to the state. Out of that, we got 80.”

Magnus said the department has enough masks to last two to three more weeks. To help supplies last, officers reserve them for situations where dispatch has informed them a person is ill or has COVID-19 symptoms.

Arizona’s stay-at-home order followed a decision to extend distance learning through the rest of an academic year to prevent the coronavirus from spreading on campuses. In doing so, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman acknowledged in a press conference that online instruction disadvantages a number of families because they do not have access to computers or reliable internet connections. Hoffman joined Arizona 360 to discuss how Arizona plans to address those challenges.

“This will be a big wake-up call for our state to really recognize and have data on the digital divide and the access to technology,” Hoffman said.

In the short-term, Hoffman said her office provided recommendations to schools about how they can use federal funds to purchase supplies. However, she said much of the equipment is on backorder because so many other agencies and companies are also transitioning to telework. She has asked the business community if it can help by donating or loaning the technology to schools.

“One business leader suggested, ‘What if we can refurbish old laptops and donate those to schools?” Hoffman said. “We’re looking for those types of creative solutions, but this is going to be a long-term issue.”

Hoffman recommends families and educators visit her office’s website to stay up to date about available resources.

Southern Arizona’s largest school district is taking steps to bridge its digital divide as it plans out the remainder of the academic year. Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said the district is expediting an order of laptops for thousands of students.

“We approved a funding package through our governing board of $3.5 million to purchase and deploy Chromebook laptops to the 15,000 families right now that don’t have anything,” Trujillo said. “In the interim we do have a learn-from-home portal that probably half the district is able to get on and comfortably navigate.”

Trujillo also explained the grading policies the district is considering that would determine whether or not students graduate or advance to the next grade level. He said he hopes the district will let schools make those decisions based on grades posted during the third quarter.

“That’s when we went into spring break, and that’s when closure started,” Trujillo said. He also said the same plan would allow students to improve their grades if they continue to complete the work assigned online.

“Any work that students complete will be work that is eligible to improve a student’s grade. Not necessarily harm it,” Trujillo said. “It’s that incentive to motivate that high school freshman that already has a C in all of his or her classes – get online and make that C a B.”

Nearly a third of Arizonans speak a language other than English at home. But resources related to COVID-19 have been slow to come out in Spanish, the state’s second-most commonly spoken language. Alisa Reznick reported on the community and health organizations that have stepped in to address those needs.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors grappled with a new reality this week as the unexpected death of Chairman Richard Elías set in. The District 5 supervisor was also up for re-election this year. In the interim, the board is expected to appoint a replacement who can serve the remainder of his term. Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller offered insight on the process and discussed the current race for the now-vacant seat.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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