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No Arizona county meets criteria for reopening classrooms as AZDHS releases benchmarks

The level of community spread in each county will be broken down into “minimal, moderate or substantial” categories.

PHOENIX — The path for Arizona schools to reopen classrooms will be based on three benchmarks driven by community spread levels of COVID-19, AZDHS announced Thursday.

Local school districts will be guided to reopen by the number of coronavirus cases in their county per capita, the percent of positive cases from testing and the percentage of people hospitalized with COVID-like illnesses.

The level of community spread each county is in will be broken down into “minimal, moderate or substantial” categories.

Credit: 12 News

If counties meet the minimal or moderate guidelines, AZDHS says schools can reopen campuses. But counties in the “moderate” category are recommended to keep lessons in a hybrid education plan.

If community spread is “substantial” in any category, schools across that county should only be on a remote-learning plan, according to AZDHS guidance.

RELATED: Arizona school districts announce changes for 2020-2021 school year

Arizona health director Cara Christ explained these are recommendations but not requirements. School districts can work with their local health department to open sooner or later.

Christ explained that no Arizona county meets the criteria to reopen schools as of early August.

State superintendent Kathy Hoffman issued a statement on Monday noting that it’s “unlikely” any schools will open doors by August 17, the expiration date of Gov. Doug Ducey’s requirement to keep campuses closed.

RELATED: Gov. Ducey orders resources for upcoming school year, but no statewide plan for in-person classes

RELATED: ‘Unlikely’ any Arizona schools will open classrooms by Aug. 17, state superintendent says

Ducey’s executive order mandated classrooms be closed at least through mid-August as the state works to limit the spread of the virus, but he allowed local school districts to create their own plans for reopening afterward while freeing millions of dollars to help them prepare.

Hoffman and Christ both say that, ultimately, the final call to reopen will be made on an individual school district level regardless if the county meets recommendations or not.

Most schools have kept classrooms closed since March after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a worldwide pandemic.

The governor argued against a statewide mandate to keep campuses closed to give school districts the flexibility to cater to their own students.

Even still, Hoffman says “our state is simply not ready to have all our students and educators congregate in school facilities.”

Arizona was already suffering from a teacher shortage before the pandemic began. Since then, many teachers say the outbreak has forced them into early retirement.

A few Arizona districts are still reeling from the deaths of teachers due to coronavirus, including Kerry Croswhite in Chandler and Kim Byrd in Gila County.

Hoffman says the lack of teachers will create substantial challenges for smaller school districts who may be forced to choose between all online or all in-class learning in lieu of the hybrid plan.

AZDHS will publicly release new benchmark information on a weekly basis so parents and school leaders can keep track.

A new program that provides free testing for students, teachers, faculty and parents was also announced.

You can read AZDHS's full plan below: