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ONLY ON ABC15: State education leaders weigh in on recent school reopenings

Back to school in Arizona
Posted at 5:27 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 21:26:37-04

PHOENIX — State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, sitting down only with ABC15's Danielle Lerner, to weigh in on school reopenings as thousands of students returned to the classroom on Tuesday.

In the meantime, Arizona's largest teacher union is calling for enhanced safety protocols and more long-term guidance from the state.

FULL COVERAGE: Safely Back to School in Arizona

"We want the same thing that parents do, we want schools back, we just want them back safe," said Arizona Education Association Vice President Marisol Garcia.

As more students return to campus, Garcia says anxiety among educators is high. "We're seeing very quick decisions and very quick turnaround," said Garcia.

In-person learning in the J.O. Combs School District in Pinal County and at Cactus Shadows High School in the Cave Creek Unified District had to be delayed after too many teachers and staff called out sick.

"The people who are calling out sick are doing that legitimately because they do not have the faith that, not only are they safe, but that they can keep their students safe," Garcia said.

"I think it's really devastating to see where, in communities, that the benchmarks were used in a more political way," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

Hoffman says she is "generally pleased" with how districts are using the recommended benchmarks to reopen but says that she understands teachers' concerns.

"Ultimately, it's an issue of safety, right?" said Hoffman. "Whether or not the teachers and staff feel safe returning to the school environment."

With different districts doing different things AEA has also called for a statewide plan to help with consistency and cut down on the rising community tensions. Hoffman says Arizona's status as a local control state likely is not going anywhere anytime soon.

"It would take a lot of heavy-handed action from the governor to get us there and I don't think that is something that we would expect from our governor," said Hoffman.

The Department of Education will, however, start crafting long-term guidance for schools by the end of September.

Hoffman is also stressing the importance of transparency, especially when it comes to districts sharing COVID-19 data with their communities.

"The more transparent schools can be, the more confident their families and teachers and staff will be in knowing that they're able to make well-informed decisions," said Hoffman. "In order to maintain this, we need to continue to take this really seriously and do our own part to make sure we're mitigating the spread of COVID."