Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey announced Sunday, March 15, that Arizona schools will be closed from March 16 through March 27. 

In a few days, Peoria went from “bustling spring” to “nothing-doing spring.”

And for students and parents, “spring break” became “spring break extended.” 

Capping a chaotic weekend, during which many districts announced they were closing and others scrambled to make decisions, Gov. Doug Ducey announced all schools in the state would close from Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27.

“School administrators should develop a plan to continue breakfast and lunch services for Arizona students,” Ducey ordered, noting schools should provide online education.

After international, federal and state warnings on the COVID-19 pandemic last week, what seemed to be a domino effect started with the NBA announcing it was suspending its season indefinitely.

Playoff-hungry Arizona Coyotes fans were primed for a showdown against the Vancouver Canucks last week at Gila River Arena— until they learned the NHL had also suspended the season. 

Late Thursday came a sledgehammer blow to Peoria and other Spring Training sites:

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. announced MLB was suspending Spring Training and delaying the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks. “This step is in the best interests of players, employees and the communities who host Spring Training,” Manfred said.

Friday morning, another hugely-popular spring tradition tapped out.

“The Luke Days 2020 airshow scheduled for March 21-22, 2020 is canceled due to growing COVID-19 concerns and to mitigate health risks to attendees,” said a release.

“We continue to take the health of our airmen and our community very seriously,” said Brig. Gen. Todd D. Canterbury, 56th Fighter Wing commander. “This decision to cancel was made after multiple meetings and conversations with our local community leaders and military health officials.” 

Then came the school closures. 

One West Valley school district after another announced Friday and Saturday schools will be closed as of Monday.

The Peoria Unified School District governing board announced Sunday it would meet Monday to discuss closing its 34 elementary schools and eight high schools.

Then came Ducey’s pronouncement about state-wide closures, which took the pressure off PUSD and other districts wrestling with closing or remaining open.

PUSD has more than 37,000 students, most residing in Glendale and Peoria.

The PUSD board voted 5-0 Monday, March 16, to allow the district superintendent and/or deputy superintendent to close and open schools through the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

“This thing changes every single day,” said PUSD Superintendent Linda Palles Thompson. “We did not expect to close it, but now we are. And so we don’t know how long it’s going to be. We are looking at two weeks, but we don’t know if it’s going to be two months, so we need to be fluid, we need to be open.”

 According to Sean Duguid, PUSD’s chief operations officer, a representative from the district will call families regularly to check in and see if they have  any particular needs. 

Sandra Schossow, PUSD’s Food and Nutrition director, said free food will be available for all kids, not just PUSD students, in a drive-by fashion starting Monday, March 23. Communication will go out to families as to where these sites will be.

“There’s plenty of food in the food service department,” she said. “We have 28 sites going to be open from 10:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The students will come through a drive-through set-up and lunch will be handed to them along with breakfast for the following day.”

The Arizona Interscholastic Association Monday banned athletic competition until March 28, with first games tentatively allowed March 30. The AIA left decisions on practices for the district and schools to decide. Danielle Airey, PUSD spokeswoman, said the district teams will not practice prior to March 28 practice.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted unanimously Monday to not postpone or cancel the spring championship season.

“Our first objective is to get students back into the classroom and then have them return to the athletic arenas when appropriate. As board members we will work diligently with our constituents to ensure a smooth transition back to school as usual,” read a statement by the AIA.

The board also noted all fees are to be waived for any competitions canceled or postponed due to the virus. The board states it will continue taking advice from the governor’s office and state health department, making any changes necessary with new information as it comes.

“This is a fluid situation,” said AIA Executive Director David Hines.


‘Time to act’

“Over the past few weeks and in coordination with public health officials, we have been in close communication with school administrators to provide guidance and be a resource as it relates to the recent outbreak of COVID-19,” Ducey said. “As more schools announce closures and education administrators express staff shortages within their schools, now is the time to act. A statewide closure is the right thing to do. While this measure will not stop the spread of COVID-19, it will bring certainty and consistency in schools across Arizona.” 

Ducey stressed schools should continue providing education to students. “School administrators should make every effort to provide continued education learning opportunities through online resources or materials to be sent home,” he said.

The governor’s decision also took the weight off Glendale Union High School District, which as of Sunday had no plans to close.

Similarly, Superintendent Curtis Finch of the Deer Valley Unified School District sent a letter to parents on March 12. He told families the state did not recommended closing schools.

The Tolleson Union High School governing board voted late afternoon Friday, March 13, to close for two weeks.

Tolleson District includes Copper Canyon High School in Glendale.

Pendergast, Litchfield and Littleton elementary school districts quickly followed on Friday, announcing they will be closed this week.

Other districts, including Agua Fria and Dysart, went back and forth on closing. 

Ducey’s decision to close all schools, including charters, overrides district decisions made last week. 


CDC guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the following guidance on school closures Saturday:

“Available modeling data indicate early, short to medium closures do not impact the epi curve of COVID-19 or available health care measures (e.g., hospitalizations). There may be some impact of much longer closures (eight weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but modeling also shows other mitigation efforts (e.g., handwashing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures. In other countries, those places who closed school (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those not closing (e.g., Singapore).

“In places where school closures are necessary, the anticipated academic and economic impacts and unintended impacts on disease outcomes must be planned for and mitigated. Provision of academic support (e.g., tele-ed), alternatives for school-based meals as well as other services (e.g., behavioral and mental health services) for economically and physically vulnerable children, support for families for whom telework and paid sick leave is not available, ensuring high-risk individuals continue to be protected must all be addressed. Special consideration must be given for health care workers so school closures do not impact their ability to work.”


Cactus League 

Spring Training, which started Feb. 22, was scheduled to continue through March 22.

The last game of the Peoria Sports Complex season turned out to be Wednesday, March 11, a fitting match up between the two teams calling Peoria home.

The Seattle Mariners defeated the San Diego Padres 4-2. A crowd of 3,660 watched the rain-shortened game.

 Cactus League fans who had planned to watch Mariners and Padres games canceled are eligible for ticket refunds.

“We will inform ticket purchasers of the process to receive a refund as quickly as possible,” said an announcement from MLB.

In 2018, the Cactus League generated an economic impact of $644 million.

“The safety of the public is the No. 1 concern of each of our ballparks,” Bridget Binsbacher, the Peoria councilwoman who is the Cactus League executive director, said in a statement.

 “Following MLB’s decision to cancel the remaining spring training schedule in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we will support our facilities in their efforts to ensure safety of the fans, teams, employees and media. We understand many fans look forward to Cactus League games and we sympathize with those whose plans were impacted.”


Eric Newman contributed to this story.