PHOENIX — Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction is worried about retention rates of educators as they continue to deal with COVID-19 worries that are overwhelming the system in the second academic year of the pandemic.
Kathy Hoffman told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday that she has heard about burnout on all levels as superintendents, teachers and other administrators grapple with parents who differ about proper mitigation strategies as COVID outbreaks rise across Arizona.
Last week, a Tucson elementary school principal was confronted in her office by a father and two other men who threated to make a “citizen’s arrest” after he was told his child would have to isolate and miss a school field trip because of possible exposure to someone with COVID-19.
Hoffman called the incident “completely unacceptable.”
“This intersection between public health and public education has never looked like this before,” Hoffman said. “It’s setting the wrong example for kids when the adults are so divisive, contentious and making threats.”
Hoffman’s concerns come as Arizona is still dealing with a shortage of qualified teachers.
Nearly three-quarters of Arizona's teacher positions remained vacant or were filled by people who didn't meet the state's standard certification requirements as of December 2020, according to data released by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.
According to the survey, 26.9% of Arizona's available positions were filled with teachers meeting standard certification requirements as of December, an improvement from 23.2% in August 2020 and 21.8% in December 2019.
“I do realize this has been one of the toughest years for educators,” Hoffman said. “We’re all feeling the fatigue from the pandemic.”
COVID spread has accelerated since students returned to class for the fall semester, mostly in early August.
Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, had 246 active school COVID-19 outbreaks as of Tuesday.
More decisions await educators at the end of the month when a law that bans mask mandates goes into effect Sept. 29.
Some districts have required masks to curb the spread of the virus prior to the law taking effect.
“This past year and a half has been extremely challenging for our school leaders to navigate and they’ve never before been in the position to make life and death decisions,” Hoffman said.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.