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Arizona schools chief candidates Riggs, Hoffman spar over safety

(KTAR Photos/Matt Bertram)

PHOENIX — Things got chippy when Arizona superintendent of public instruction candidates Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs sparred over school safety during a radio debate Thursday.

Appearing on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos, Riggs called the use of school resource officers “absolutely the defining issue in our race.”

Riggs, a Republican, approaches the topic from the perspective of a former police officer, while his Democratic opponent looks at it as someone who worked in the classroom as a teacher.

“I believe that a sworn, trained, uniformed law enforcement officer in a school is a good thing and a proven deterrent, unlike my opponent,” Riggs said.

Hoffman said she has been in school lockdowns and doesn’t think adding resource officers is the best way to keep students safe.

“I think they should be there when absolutely necessary in certain cases,” she said.

“That’s why I’ve made it clear that I’ve said that we should not expand because when we’re talking about expansion of SROs, to me that’s ‘How are we going to pay for that?’”

Hoffman said she’d rather see more resources used for counselors and other mental health services.

“I don’t think the SRO should be the first line of defense when it comes to helping our students with mental health concerns,” she said.

Riggs said that just because he supports having more armed officers in schools doesn’t mean he’s against additional mental health support for students.

“Everything gets conflated — ‘If you’re for SROs, you’re against school counselors,’” he said. “That’s not the case. … You can want counselors and school resource officers.”

Things got testy when Riggs brought up comments Hoffman has tweeted and Hoffman countered by saying Riggs has been bickering with teachers on social media and blocking them.

“Your supporters, who engage in all kinds of name-calling and personal attacks,” Riggs said. “That’s where I draw the line.”

“Who are teachers,” Hoffman interjected as the candidates talked over each other.

The winner of the Nov. 6 election will succeed current Superintendent Diane Douglas, who finished third in the GOP primary in her re-election bid.

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