COVID outbreak in school could return kids to remote learning, Hoffman says
PHOENIX — Arizona’s schools chief on Wednesday said a school that has a COVID-19 outbreak may have to send kids home to learn remotely again.
“That is the direction that is very possible and that is exactly what we want to avoid,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad.
She said schools don’t have enough substitute teachers to go around if there were an outbreak of teachers that test positive or were exposed to the virus.
“That would absolutely result in seeing more schools being forced to resort to distance learning,” Hoffman said.
Fueled by the delta variant of the virus, daily case reports have been rising in recent weeks with school set to start soon.
More than 1,000 COVID-19 daily cases were reported by state officials again on Wednesday, marking the 15th time in the last 16 days the daily cases reported has reached four digits.
The state hasn’t seen numbers that high since March when the vaccine was not as widely available.
Hoffman blamed the limits being put on schools that restrict mitigation strategies to prevent outbreaks as a cause that may lead to remote learning.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a state budget last month that included a provision preventing local jurisdictions, including school boards, from mandating face masks or vaccines as a condition of participating in in-person instruction.
The move came after Ducey rescinded an order in April that had directed K-12 public and charter schools to require face coverings, but allowed districts to mandate masks and enforce other policies to stop the spread of the virus.
“These policies were put into law by our legislature and the governor just a couple of months ago and its really been disruptive,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said she has heard from parents both professionally and personally that are concerned about kids that are under the age of 12 and not eligible for the vaccine, as well as those that have medical conditions like asthma.
School leaders have told Hoffman more parents in the past week or two have been exploring an interest in online options.
“It’s really upsetting that parents are being put back in this really difficult decision of how to keep their kids safe and being worried about are other kids in the classroom going to be wearing masks, are they going to be vaccinated,” Hoffman said.
“When you don’t know and there’s that uncertainty, oftentimes the reaction is to keep your kids home where you know they’ll be safe but we’ve already had a year and a half of this remote learning and back and forth. What I want more than anything is stability for our schools.”
In the meantime, she said schools are accustomed to teaching students about the importance of keeping each other healthy and not spread germs – even before COVID-19.
“It is important that our schools keep educating their communities about what they can do to keep themselves safe, and that includes wearing masks and getting vaccinated.”