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Arizona schools chief Hoffman expects challenge balancing distance, comfort

Kristina Washington, special education staff member at Desert Heights Preparatory Academy, walks past a series of desks and chairs at the school Monday, June 1, 2020, in Phoenix, returning to her classroom for only the second time since the coronavirus outbreak closed schools. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman released guidelines on Monday for reopening the state's K-12 schools in August. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Tuesday she expects it will be difficult for schools to balance physical distancing and comfort once in-person instruction resumes.

“It’s going to be challenging for our school leaders going forward finding that balance of how we implement mitigation strategies like physical distancing,” Hoffman told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad. “But we also want our school environments to be welcoming and comforting to the children to the staffs that we serve.”

Hoffman and the Arizona Department of Education on Monday released guidance for public schools on how to safely reopen after the coronavirus pandemic caused them to close in mid-March.

The guidelines call for smaller class sizes and increased physical distancing, a combination Hoffman admits could be difficult at schools.

A survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association from December found that the state had about a quarter of its teaching positions — or about 7,500 jobs — unfilled.

“We have large classroom sizes in Arizona and I will be the first to say that there are going to be cases where it’s not realistic that we don’t have extra classrooms and we don’t have extra teachers,” Hoffman said.

Giving students an acceptable comfort level while still adhering to proper physical distancing could get challenging if class sizes aren’t reduced.

Hoffman said administrators have a wide range of options on how to keep students at acceptable distances.

That includes the use of physical barriers such as sneeze guards and partitions.

“We’re very concerned about the social and emotional well-being of our students,” Hoffman said.

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