TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Southern Arizona school districts are getting a little more time and flexibility to prepare their campuses as COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the state.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered the start of start of school to be delayed until at least Aug. 17, but Ducey said that could change again if the virus spreads more.
The executive order allows for schools to offer distance learning consistent with their regular academic calendars.
“It is an unfortunate, but necessary decision to delay students’ return to their classrooms. But with Arizona’s COVID cases hitting new highs every week, it is clearly not yet safe for students and teachers to return to school facilities,” said Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman.
Gov. Ducey said the intent is to pay teachers and continue with benefits as scheduled.
“It’s not going to mean less pay. Our objective here of course is to fully fund our schools, to provide all the resources and flexibility necessary,” said Gov. Ducey.
Last week, Tucson Unified Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said the district needed more time to prepare for a safe learning experience, since the district, at that time, had to offer in-person instruction with online learning. He said he was in favor of a delay or the option to start the year with distance learning.
“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.”
TUSD Superintendent Trujillo released this statement Tuesday:
“Yesterday afternoon Governor Ducey announced the delayed start of the school year until August 17th for Arizona school districts. For TUSD this means that the opening of the school year originally set for August 6th has now been delayed. Our new first day of the new school year has been scheduled for Monday, August 17th, giving the district more time to prepare for a safe and organized entry into our schools.
We are reviewing how this adjustment will impact the start date for our staff and teachers, as well as the school calendar. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through this very fluid situation.”
A spokesperson for TUSD said details are still under the planning stages including whether remote learning will start before or until the scheduled new date.
The Governor and the Arizona Department of Health Services will re-evaluate the status of COVID-19 in the state and make updated recommendations around re-opening school facilities over the next two months.
Statement from Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams:
“I am very thankful for the flexibility our Governor is giving schools and I expect this type of governance for the remainder of the pandemic. I would love to see schools have the ability for remote learning without losing dollars. This is not the time to cut budgets but rather bolster them for the well-being of students and staff. I am also very concerned about the Governors five day in-person mandate option schools must provide. In my opinion, this is an unsafe mandate and schools should be allowed to dictate their own schedules. I would respectfully ask that the governor start to tackle the issues of liability clauses, fire drill practices, and lockdown procedures for future guidance. There is a lot of work to be done and these decisions need to be made swiftly.”
Statement on behalf of the Amphitheater School District:
“The Amphitheater School District will be evaluating the governor’s order and how to best serve the needs of our students, employees and community. Our teachers and staff miss seeing our students in person, but we recognize that in this constantly evolving and changing environment, we have to do our part in keeping our community safe.”
We received an automated email response from the spokesperson for the Marana Unified School District which stated she would be out of the office with limited access to email until July 7.
Statement from Catalina Foothills School District Dr. Mary Kamerzell:
“For us, this is a one week delay to the start of the school year. We welcome the additional planning time for reopening. But if the increase in COVID-19 transmission doesn’t abate significantly in the next few weeks, we hope that Governor Ducey will consider delaying school in more than one-week increments.”
We have not yet received a statement from Flowing Wells Unified School District.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association announced all school-related athletics and activities will also be delayed until Aug. 17. This will push back the starting dates of practice for all fall sports and activities, and delay the start of competition seasons.