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J.O. Combs school district cancels all classes Monday due to lack of staff

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PHOENIX — A metro Phoenix school district that originally planned to start in-person learning next week announced Friday they’ve canceled all classes Monday due to insufficient staffing.

J.O. Combs Unified School District, located in San Tan Valley, was planning to start in-person learning Monday following a governing board vote.

The district reversed its decision following an overwhelming response of staff saying they do not feel safe returning to classrooms with students.

Kayla Fulmer, director of marketing and community relations, told KTAR News that 109 teachers and staff have said they’ll be absent Monday. The district has around 600 teachers and staff.

“At this time, we do not know the duration of these staff absences, and cannot yet confirm when in-person instruction may resume,” Superintendent Dr. Gregory A. Wyman said in a statement.

The district expects to have an update by 5 p.m. Monday.

In the meantime, the school district will continue to offer breakfast and lunch meal service that can be picked up between 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. After-school and extracurricular activities are also canceled.

The district’s decision comes less than a week after the Arizona Department of Health Services unveiled three COVID-related benchmarks counties should meet before schools return to in-person instruction.

Pinal County currently meets two of the three benchmarks required for schools to reopen.

During a press conference Thursday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey did not see an issue with Arizona districts opening classrooms in counties that haven’t met the state’s COVID-19 benchmarks.

“We’re supportive of the districts,” Ducey said.

However, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman thought differently.

“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.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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