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Arizona superintendent, ADHS director release joint statement after dispute over in-person learning benchmarks

TUCSON (KVOA) - With schools beginning to resume in-person instruction across Arizona, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Dr. Cara Christ, Director of the Department of Health Services released a statement Friday to clarify the role of the state's Benchmarks for Safely Returning to In-Person Instruction

Back on June 29, Gov. Doug Ducey delayed the start of in-person classes to Aug. 17. While the order allowed virtual instruction to begin whenever decided by the school leaders, members of the community and district officials reached out to the governor for further guidance on resuming in-person instruction.

After receiving some pressure from protesting parents, teachers and students, Ducey announced July 23 that he will pass the decision of when school would like to resume in-person instruction to local officials and district leaders. Shortly after this announcement, AZDHS published the Benchmarks for Safely Returning to In-Person Instruction and shared its guidelines to when schools should resume in-person learning on Aug. 6.

On Thursday, Ducey and Christ said in a news conference that after working closely with the superintendent and other education leaders, they have developed new guidelines to determine when schools can resume in-person learning.

Hoffman then pushed back against this sentiment, saying that the Department of Education did not recommend to developand the superintendent to change the benchmarks, Hoffman stated that the Department of Education was not consulted in any changes to the guidelines.

Hoffman and Christ then released a joint statement in response to the changes.

“Unfortunately, there was a communications breakdown between the agencies that left the public confused and uninformed. Yesterday, the Department of Health Services made clarifications to help clear this up," the statement read. "The important part is that these benchmarks provide schools with data-driven metrics, while schools maintain the ultimate authority to make decisions that are best for their communities."

Pima County met the benchmark requirements to introduce hybrid learning back on Sept. 3. Several districts in the area have since implemented this learning structure.

Arizona reported 1,565 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16 more deaths on Friday.

The statement in its entirety can be viewed below.

“Since we started working together in 2019, we have enjoyed a strong partnership and a shared commitment to keeping Arizona’s kids healthy and safe. That partnership has been so important during COVID-19, and we’ve sought to always be aligned and work together during this pandemic. We want to make it clear: That hasn’t changed. Together, we developed benchmarks for our schools to safely reopen.

“Unfortunately, there was a communications breakdown between the agencies that left the public confused and uninformed. Yesterday, the Department of Health Services made clarifications to help clear this up. The important part is that these benchmarks provide schools with data-driven metrics, while schools maintain the ultimate authority to make decisions that are best for their communities.

“Our goal is to move forward, together. It’s important for Arizona kids and families, and we look forward to continued collaboration during this pandemic and beyond.”

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Dr. Cara Christ, Director of the Department of Health Services
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Anthony Victor Reyes

Anthony Victor Reyes is the lead digital content producer at News 4 Tucson. The award-winning journalist previously worked as a community reporter in Jasper County, Iowa.

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