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Arizona school board imposes gag rule for vaccines, masks

August 20, 2021 GMT

BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. (AP) — Employees in a northwestern Arizona school district cannot discuss vaccination status or mask-wearing with students under a motion approved unanimously by the local school board.

The edict from the Colorado River Union High School District Governing Board carries no repercussions for administrators, staff or teachers who violate it. That would be up to Superintendent Monte Silk, who supported the motion.

The debate over masks and vaccines in Arizona schools has been heated. At least 26 school districts in the state have enacted their own mask mandates, even as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has tried to prevent them and threatened schools with a loss of funding.

Those districts account for nearly 300,000 students and 450 schools, mostly around Phoenix and Tucson.

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The Colorado River Union High School District’s gag rule, however, is rare.

Board member Ashley Gerich, who calls herself a “non-vaxxer” requested the item be put on the board’s agenda this week. She said a couple of students, including her daughter, told her conversations about the vaccine made them uncomfortable, the Mohave Daily News reported.

“Regardless of your own personal views and beliefs, you shouldn’t be forcing them on impressionable children or teenagers, adolescents,” she said during a meeting Tuesday. “I think that’s their parents’ job and right to be able to say whether they want their child to be vaccinated or not.”

Fellow board member Carey Fearing said neither vaccines nor masks should be discussed during school hours and suggested teachers talk with students about things that pertain only to classroom learning. The board oversees schools in Bullhead City and Mohave Valley. Its president is a local surgeon.

Ducey defended his decision to block federal COVID-19 relief funding for schools that require masks, saying he believes he’s on solid legal ground and is empowering parents to make decisions.

“I want parents to do what they think is the right thing to do. Anyone that wants to wear a mask is supported in wearing that mask,” Ducey told reporters on Thursday.

Arizona’s Department of Health Services reported 3,546 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and four more deaths Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 976,471 cases and 18,508 deaths since the pandemic began.

More than half of Arizona’s population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Hospitalizations due to the virus continue to climb and were at 1,837 as of Wednesday. That’s the highest number since mid-February.