State Supt. Hoffman says Arizona 'simply not ready' for in-person learning as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Arizona's top education official says the state is "not currently in a place" to resume in-person instruction or hybrid learning models, as school districts across the state are getting ready for a new school year.

In a statement posted to her unverified Twitter page on August 3, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says it is unlikely that any school community will be able to reopen safely for traditional in-person or hybrid instruction by August 17.

"Every indicator shows that there is high community spread across the state," read a portion of the statement. "We should not expect or ask the majority of Arizona's students and teachers to make a return to school facilities until the spread of COVID-19 is under control."

In the same statement, Superintendent Hoffman says the Arizona Department of Health Services will soon release public health metrics meant to guide school leaders in their decisions on reopening classrooms for in-person learning.

On March 30, Governor Doug Ducey announced that schools across Arizona are closed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year amid the pandemic.

Districts weighing options, while parents react

"I’m scared, I’m scared to bring students on campus because I don’t think it’s safe," said Hayden-Winkleman Unified School District superintendent Jeff Gregorich.

Gregorich already knows how hard COVID-19 can hit schools. One of his teachers, Kim Byrd, died from COVID-19 complications on June 26. Two other teachers with whom Byrd shared a classroom during summer school also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“We haven’t even touched her room yet. It’s something we need to talk about, and it’s depressing to think about," said Gregorich.

Gregorich says bringing 300 students back to school in Gila County just isn’t an option to him. They’re making due with little Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), with shower curtains being used as dividers.

In addition, Gregorich also faces the possibility of a five-percent funding cut if he doesn’t open schools. It’ll be tough, but not tougher than the alternative

"I can adjust the budget, but I can’t bring anyone back," said Gregorich. "I know that this community isn’t prepared for that."

He agrees kids are better off in the school, but he can’t imagine the price a multi-generational family unit - of which there are many - would pay if COVID came home with a student

"We can do our best, but I just don’t see it," said Gregorich. "I don’t know if the people making decisions have spent much time around classrooms."

Meanwhile, parents have also taken part in the debate. On August 2, FOX 10 reported on parents' reaction to school reopenings.

"I would hate for this thing to shoot up in numbers because we want to use our kids as an experiment. It's not fair to families, teachers and staff," says Kara Ellis, parent of an incoming sophomore at Perry High School in Gilbert.

"The system destroys students to participate in fine arts, visual arts, and sports. Students cannot learn what is only taught on stage, through a screen. It destroys any hope of preparing for college auditions, college sports scouting, and even simply doing what students love. Most students don’t go to school for their academics, they go for their electives," an unidentified parent said.

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