PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Virtual learning or in-person instruction? It's the hot topic stirring up heated debate across the state as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman wants all schools to go back to distance learning for the first two weeks of January.

It's a request Gov. Doug Ducey doesn't agree with, leaving the decision of whether kids are on campus up to local school districts.

"We do need to realize as a community, and as Arizonans, that people are dying by the thousands every couple weeks," said Hoffman. "Arizona is one of the worst hot spots in the country and we cannot treat that like it's not a serious situation."

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The Chandler Unified School District voted Monday to delay in-person learning until Jan. 15, following complaints from parents and teachers that it's not safe for kids to be back in the classroom.

Hoffman said that without direction from the governor, it's up to individual school districts to follow the COVID-19 benchmarks that state health officials have put in place.

"Yes, I am hopeful more districts will continue to follow guidelines, and transition to distance learning, doing everything they can to protect teachers, staff and students, as well," said Hoffman.

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Right now, there are a number of school districts that continue to provide in-person learning.

They include Peoria Unified School District, Dysart Unified School District, Gilbert Public Schools using a hybrid system, Higley Unified School District and Queen Creek Unified School District.

Hoffman is hopeful teachers can start getting vaccines by the end of the month. She said it will be a big step towards getting more kids back in the classroom.

"I do think vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel, especially since we have a lot of teachers and school staff approaching retirement age or have pre-existing conditions," said Hoffman.

Jason Barry is best known for his Dirty Dining Report which airs Fridays at 6:30 p.m. on CBS 5.  He is also the storyteller behind CBS 5's Pay It Forward which airs every Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

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