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Hoffman: Gov. Ducey’s order on in-person learning on track but rushed

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Gov. Doug Ducey’s order Wednesday for most of the state’s K-12 schools to provide in-person instruction in March was on track, but requiring the change within two weeks feels like “whiplash.”

“Many district and charters have already made their own plans, and this lines up pretty well with many of their plans … but for the districts and charters that had different plans, this is causing a lot of disruption,” Hoffman told Gaydos & Chad on Wednesday.

“The direction is on track with what we all want for our schools but it’s very rushed.”

The order directs public district and charter schools across Arizona to offer students in-person and virtual options by March 15 or upon their return from spring break, excluding middle and high schools in counties with a high transmission rate as defined by the Centers for Disease Control. Coconino, Yavapai and Pinal fall into that high transmission rate category.

While Hoffman said she talked with Ducey on Tuesday about where schools were at and CARES Act funding, she said the governor did not share the executive order announcement and she did not have any input on the plans.

Hoffman, however, said she was grateful Ducey’s education policy adviser joined a call Wednesday with school leaders to help with communication because “there are a lot of questions right now in our schools.”

The executive order doesn’t leave schools a lot of planning time, Hoffman said, as schools had been conducting surveys to see how many students would be coming back to school prior to a shift in the learning model.

“Since this is saying that virtual could still be an option for families, being able to staff in school in-person instruction and kids who are learning online is challenging for our schools to navigate,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman in a statement said the Department of Education will provide support to help schools meet Ducey’s deadline.

Part of the executive order requires schools to continue maintaining practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Fortunately we have been providing that type of guidance to our schools consistently over the past several months,” Hoffman said. “Anytime we learn more information from public health experts, we’ve made sure to disseminate that information.”

Despite the rushed timing, Hoffman says schools can be safe to resume in-person learning.

“As long as we continue with the vaccinations for educators and school staff and everyone is wearing masks in the school along with social distancing and all the other layers and mitigation strategies, the research is showing that transmission of COVID-19 can be very, very low in our schools so it can be safe for in-person instruction,” Hoffman said.

The executive order also allows middle and high schools in counties with substantial transmission to reduce attendance to allow for adequate physical distancing.

For Arizona vaccine information, visit azdhs.gov/findvaccine.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

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