PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, voiced her concerns about suicide among school-age children during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hoffman said so far in Arizona this year, there have been 43 suicides of people under the age of 17, some as young as 13. That's up from 38 in 2019. Her concern is that with schools in remote-learning and the cancelation of extracurricular activities, children are dealing with what she called a set of twin crises -- the virus itself and youth suicide due to isolation from their friends and classmates.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Hoffman and Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, announced their new "Healthy Kids, Open Schools" plan, which aims to keep students safe from the virus without necessarily having to close schools.

"When our schools close to in-person instruction, it is devastating to our communities," she said. "Without serious changes from us, the adults making daily choices determining the virus' path, we cannot expect these numbers to head in a safe direction. The more we ignore the virus, the less stability we provide our students and families," Hoffman said.

The "Healthy Kids, Open Schools" campaign is meant to help parents know when to keep their kids home from class, and urge them to report symptoms and test results to the schools. Christ and Hoffman called on masks to be worn during all school activities, including sports and bus rides.

Hoffman also expressed her concern for students who don't have reliable access to internet. She said that going back to remote-learning may sound like a fix for coronavirus concerns, but not all students have that option.

"Online learning is not possible in some of our communities, especially in our tribal communities where access to internet is not available, for example in the Navajo Nation only about 25% of students have internet access," Hoffman said.

Hoffman says that the long-term effects of remote learning or lack thereof would be devastating. 


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