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Arizona schools chief calls out districts for resuming in-person learning

Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman speaks the latest Arizona coronavirus update during a news conference Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

PHOENIX — Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman called out Arizona districts Thursday that intend to resume in-person learning despite counties not meeting recommended benchmarks to reopen.

“I think that’s really toxic for the community that they’re making decisions that are putting their staff and their teachers’ lives at risk,” Hoffman said during a meeting with the University of Arizona’s Education Policy Center. “It’s very devastating.”

Hoffman said she was disappointed with districts like Queen Creek Unified, J.O. Combs Unified and the 12-campus American Leadership Academy charter school system.

Those districts have decided to begin on-campus learning Monday, the first day allowed under state requirements.

Zero Arizona counties currently meet the recommended benchmarks for reopening.

Ultimately, districts have the final say in the matter.

“I know that this is challenging for our school leaders…but we need to adhere to the metrics and take the virus seriously,” Hoffman said.

Gov. Doug Ducey didn’t take issue with districts opening in defiance of the state’s recommendations.

“We’re supportive of the districts,” he said during a press conference Thursday.

When asked what he thought about educators reluctant to work on campus where the benchmarks haven’t been met, Ducey said, “There’s a lot of teachers that can’t wait to get to the front of the classroom.”

Hoffman voiced her concerns about the possibility of teacher shortages during the meeting.

At least one teacher in the Queen Creek district won’t return to his classroom after the school board voted to resume in-person learning.

Districts will offer virtual and hybrid learning options throughout the year, even when in-person instruction resumes.

“It’s so detrimental to the health and well-being of the community,” Hoffman said. “It has a very negative impact on the school culture.”

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