Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday announced grants for schools that follow all state rules and remain open for in-person learning. Pool File Photo by Doug Mills/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 18 (UPI) -- In an effort to prevent schools from mandating face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced $163 million in grants for district and charter schools that remain open to in-person instruction while abiding by all state laws.
"Parents are in the driver's seat, and it's their right to make decisions that best fit the needs of their children," he said in a statement. "Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged -- mandates that place more stress on students and families aren't."
Ducey's office said the grants were made available through the federal American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into effect in March, and will be distributed through the Education Plus Up Grant program to schools open for in-person learning from as of Aug. 27 and throughout the remainder of the school year.
"These grants acknowledge efforts by schools and educators that are following state laws and keeping their classroom doors open for Arizona's students," he said.
The announcement was made as several school districts have mandated masks for all students and staff as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled on Monday that schools may enforce mask mandates until at least the end of September.
The ruling came in a case concerning HB 2898, which prohibits face coverings and COVID-19 vaccination mandates by government entities.
The judge ruled Monday that the law, which was passed by state lawmakers in early summer, had not yet gone into effect as new laws are only active 90 days following the legislative session ends, which would be Sept. 29.
In response to Ducey's announcement, Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging her department to inform the Republican governor that if he continues with this plan the state may lose those founds.
"Gov. Doug Ducey declared that he intends to use American Rescue Plan funds to carry out a science-denying mission and put Arizona children in greater danger by punitively denying resources to schools that follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and require students, staff and visitors to wear masks," he wrote.
The CDC recommends universal indoor masking of staff, students and teachers in K-12 schools.
Stanton said Ducey's plan violates the law passed by Congress concerning the COVID-19 relief funds and guidance issued by the Treasury on its use.
"These funds are not intended to be used for policies that undercut scientific research to pursue purely partisan ideological priorities," he said in the letter to Yellen.
Kathy Hoffman, the superintendent of Public Instruction in the state, also issued a statement chastising the Republican governor and reminding him that those 12 years of age and under are ineligible to be inoculated against the virus.
"This is yet another outrageous attack on public education by the governor when he should be listening to school leaders and educators on what is needed to keep students safe and schools open," she said. "We need serious leaderships to get our students and schools through this pandemic."
Ducey on Tuesday also announced an additional $10 million to provide parents with money for child care, transportation and online tutoring and tuition if their children attend schools that face "unnecessary closures and school mandates."
The announcement in Arizona was made as other Republican-run states fight school boards seeking to impose similar mask mandates.
In Florida on Tuesday, the State Board of Education unanimously voted that two school districts had violated state law by requiring students to wear masks.
In Texas, several districts have announced mask mandates as the case continues through the courts.
Both of those mask mandate prohibitions were issued through governor executive orders.
The Republican governors argue the mask mandates strip parents of their ability to choose the healthcare for their children while proponents say masks will prevent those too young to be vaccinated from getting sick and prevent those who work and attend school from bringing the virus home to their families.