TUSD superintendent: “We need time” to start school safely

TUSD Superintendent on reopening

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The superintendent of the largest school district in Southern Arizona said time is not on the district’s side.

“It puts us in a situation where we are going to be less successful. We aren’t going to be as successful as we could be starting August 6,” said Sup. Gabriel Trujillo.

Trujillo said leaders of the Tucson Unified School District are racing against the clock to plan for and provide a safe schools and clean learning centers as the coronavirus continue to spread through the state.

TUSD Governing Board Members have continued to talk about how they will implement cleaning procedures and new practices for all ages, including social distancing in classrooms, meaning less group work and interaction, one-way hallways and staggered recess and lunch. It is recommended that masks or face coverings be required for all students, teachers, staff and visitors.

Busses will also adhere to social distancing, meaning less students aboard and more trips.

“The sheer amount of logistics involved with implementing our plan. The receipt. The inventory. The deployment of everything from hand sanitizer to masks to plexiglass to touch-less water dispenser stations in every school to touch-less hand sanitizer dispensers in every bus and every classroom, it’s exhausted and it’s comprehensive and we need time,” said Sup. Trujillo. “We need time. And I’m not even getting into prepping our facilities.”

More than 1,300 parents, students, teachers and staff members have signed onto an open letter to Sup. Turjillo and the TUSD. The first demand is a delay to the start of the school year.

“I see the tears, I see the fears, I understand the emotion behind that letter,” said Trujillo. “We cannot close the schools. We do not have the authority to do it. Two, if we close the schools, it’s this easy - we get zero funding and then the problem is ten-times worse.”

Trujillo said he would like the option to delay the start of the school year or begin with online instruction only, especially if cases continue to increase. However, if the TUSD offers online instruction, they are required to offer in-person option as well.

Governor Doug Ducey’s Executive Order regarding returning to schools includes the statutory requirement to have 180 days of school, so Sup. Trujillo said the district is locked in.

“Funding structure is a function and decision made legislatively as is the school calendar. So when we are talking executive orders, executive orders can only go so far.”

Trujillo wants the state legislature to reconvene immediately to reasses how the school year should look. While the executive order does put a cap on any revenue loss the district will experience due to lower enrollment, Trujillo said it fell short on:

- A 180-day requirement for instruction, which means the district can’t explore options to delay.

- Equalizing funding for online learning, as the district will lose more than $200 per student who works online compared to physical attendance.

- Requirement for physical attendance option, which means the district can not explore starting the school year digitally if cases of COVID-19 are still widespread.

“There is this mad rush to August 6 that is, quite frankly, going to cause some of that [steps for a safe, clean environment] to be missed,” said Trujillo. “And if some of that is missed and it results in case positives, that is going to be very hard for me to not look at this state legislature and say, ‘I hold you accountable for this.‘”

Trujillo said the district is working on a phased in approach for athletics and fine arts. Practices for football could start next month, with changes. Weight rooms and locker rooms would be off-limits, practice groups would be smaller than 10 people, social distancing would have to be maintained and the practices would be closed to the public. More information is expected in the coming weeks.

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