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Kathy Hoffman says some education services to require in-person learning

(Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman on Thursday addressed special education and counseling programs that will require the physical presence of students on campus during this academic year.

“We know that across the state the safest place for anyone to be is at home,” she said.

“So I do encourage that our students are learning from home whenever possible. However, there are some critical services such as some special education services — or I know some schools are planning on offering some counseling services — that our students truly need as they go into this new school year.”

As a former speech pathologist, Hoffman cautioned against special ed students returning to campuses prematurely due to possible health concerns.

“Many of the students I worked with who had a disability also had a medical condition,” she said.

Hoffman also noted that some special ed programs, such as speech pathology, can be conducted virtually.

Last week, the Arizona Department of Health Services released county-specific benchmark recommendations for schools to resume in-person education: a positive rate of 7% or less for two consecutive weeks, case rates less than 100 per 100,000 people or see a two-week decline in number of cases and less than 10% of total hospital visits being due to COVID-like illnesses.

Since the recommendations are not enforceable by law, school districts are left with the authority to decide when to resume in-person education beginning Monday.

Hoffman said part of the idea behind Gov. Doug Ducey’s June 29 executive order, which delayed the beginning of in-school instruction until at least Aug. 17, was to enable districts to evaluate and prioritize the needs of their surrounding communities. This flexibility was meant in part to provide a “safety net” to those students whose educational needs require traditional classroom learning.

Though not legally binding, Hoffman believes following the health benchmarks are crucial to providing a roadmap back to educational normalcy.

“… We need to rally behind these metrics,” Hoffman said.

“We all want to go back to school, we want our teachers back in the classroom with our students to have all the social and emotional benefits of having everyone back in the classroom — that’s our shared goal. We now know what we need to do to get there.”

Administrators in two southeast Valley public districts — Queen Creek Unified and J.O. Combs Unified – and the 12-campus American Leadership Academy charter school system decided earlier this week to begin offering on-campus learning Monday, despite the fact that Maricopa and Pinal counties both fall short of AZDHS’ health benchmarks.

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