An Arizona school district has been forced to cancel classes and reverse course on its plan to resume in-person classes on Monday after teachers and other staff called in sick en masse due to coronavirus concerns.

“We have received an overwhelming response from staff indicating that they do not feel safe returning to classrooms with students. In response, we have received a high volume of staff absences for Monday citing health and safety concerns,” Gregory Wyman, superintendent of the J.O. Combs Unified School district, said in a letter to parents Friday.

The San Tan Valley, Phoenix, school district’s board had voted last week to resume in-person learning Monday, even though they failed to meet recommended benchmarks set by the Arizona Department of Health Services. No counties in the Phoenix metropolitan area met the necessary criteria last week to reopen, according to the New York Times.

On Friday, 109 teachers and staff members ― nearly 20% of the district’s staff of roughly 600 ― had put in absences for Monday, a district spokeswoman told the Arizona Republic.

“Due to these insufficient staffing levels, schools will not be able to re-open on Monday as planned. This means that all classes, including virtual learning, will be canceled,” Wyman wrote.

It’s unclear how long these absences would last and when in-person instruction would resume, he said.

The reopening debate flared in Arizona after hundreds of parent and student protesters in Phoenix called last Monday for a return to in-person learning, Reuters reported. It followed demonstrations from teachers calling for a delay until October.

At a protest in Phoenix last month, Arizona teachers voiced fears about returning to school in a state that continues to be rASSOCIATED PRESS / Ross D. Franklin At a protest in Phoenix last month, Arizona teachers voiced fears about returning to school in a state that continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus.

Kelley Fisher, a Phoenix kindergarten teacher who has led protests in the city, told Reuters it was great to see the school district come together and use their collective power. “I’d love to see a nationwide sick out,” she said.

The resumption of in-person learning has become a source of debate across the country as some parents and politicians urge schools to reopen while others, including teachers’ unions, cite coronavirus concerns as they push for a further delay amid a resurgence of the virus. Schools in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Nebraska have closed again after COVID-19 outbreaks forced staff and students to isolate.

Several Georgia schools drew nationwide attention when images of dangerously packed hallways and crowds were circulated by concerned students after some schools reopened earlier this month despite the resurgence of the virus in the state. On Friday, Georgia’s Cherokee County public school district said it had instructed more than 1,700 students and 44 faculty and staff members to self-quarantine.

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