In the desire to operate out of an abundance of caution in the hope of minimizing the effects of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, the Diocese of Phoenix decided March 15 to close all Catholic schools for two weeks March 16-27.

The decision coincides with an announcement from Arizona Governor Doug Ducey the same day closing schools throughout the state for the same fortnight.

“While the AZ Department of Health Services continues to advise that the level of community spread of COVID-19 in Arizona remains minimal, please be assured that we will remain vigilant in monitoring this rapidly developing situation,” diocesan officials said in a March 15 statement.

“Our schools have been working diligently to prepare for this situation, including providing the necessary supplemental instruction to students, deep cleaning campuses and keeping in touch with their local school communities.”

Diocesan officials asked for continued prayers for the end of the pandemic and for Catholic school leaders “as they continue to do their best in guiding their respective communities in a manner that is healthy, smart and holy.”

In a joint announcement with Arizona State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, the governor said that the state has worked hard to keep schools open, noting that schools are important assets in people’s lives and that many families rely on schools for nutrition and access to health care.

However, Ducey and Hoffman said that closing the schools was the best option, citing concerns from public health officials and school administrators throughout the state, and noting that many districts have already announced closures because of concerns regarding staffing and potential absences.

“It’s important for families and parents to know that while this will address operational issues, doing this will not stop the spread of COVID-19,” the said. “The safest place for children during this time is at home. They should not be cared for by elderly adults or those with underlying health conditions, including grandparents and other family members.”

A sign for washing hands is seen during a news media tour of quarantine facilities for treating the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Montreal March 2. On March 12, the bishops of Quebec canceled all weekend Masses across the province until further notice. (Christinne Muschi/CNS, via Reuters)

The state government is working to minimize the impact of school closures, they said, including assembling resources and forming community partnerships. The state is also working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow schools to begin summer food service operations and provide boxed meals as needed.

Addressing childcare options, the state leaders passed along recommendations from public health officials that children who are not at school remain at home to the greatest extent possible.

“For families for whom that’s not an option, we are coordinating with partners in the non-profit, faith-based and education communities to make available childcare options to families who need it.”

During this time, school administrators should:

  • Make every effort to provide continued education learning opportunities through online resources or materials that can be sent home.
  • Develop a plan to continue breakfast and lunch services for Arizona students.
  • Expand childcare programs currently available to ensure minimal disruption to healthcare professionals and first responders as a result of the school closure.
  • Develop and implement precautions when school resumes to ensure schools are a safe learning environment, including:
    • social distancing measures
    • regular intervals for administrators to wash and sanitize their hands
    • guidance on how to properly and frequently sanitize election equipment and common surfaces.