Nearly quarter of Pima County teachers are 55 or older, some worried about getting back into classroom

teacher's reaction to new school year amid COVID-19

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Some teachers are nervous to head back to the classroom for in-person lessons, as 23 percent of Pima County teachers are above the age of 55.

“We have broad shoulders, but there’s a limit,” said Marea Jenness, a high school science teacher. “Putting our lives on the line is not what any of us signed up for.”

Yesterday, Arizona teachers asked for an October school opening and funding for online instruction, after at least two teachers died from COVID-19. Many are concerned about in-person classes starting in about a month. For many teachers, Jenness said part of the worry comes with age.

“I’m really scared to be in a closed classroom with 42 kids,” she said.

At 60, and with lasting complications from valley fever, she is in the vulnerable category — and she’s not alone.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, while the average age of teachers in Pima County is around 44, nearly 23 percent of the 8,374 teachers are 55 or older. Statewide, about 20 percent of the 59,924 teachers are 55 or older. The average age for a teacher in Arizona is about 43.

Jenness said she has taken precautions and protections into her own hands. She ordered about 50 masks with clear face coverings for teachers around Arizona.

“Something like 90 percent of my classroom management is the expression on my face,” she said.

Jenness said very little has been communicated to teachers about whether PPE — and what kind — will be provided for them.

Gov. Doug Ducey pushed the school start date back to Aug. 17, but some districts are calling that “aspirational.”

Officials with the Tucson Unified School District are planning on starting school online on Aug. 10 before phasing in face-to-face lessons. TUSD officials said they do have plans for employees like Jenness with pre-existing conditions or concerns.

“For all of our employees, not just teachers, all of them.... we can assign them accommodation to work from home,” said Dr. Gabriel Trujillo, Tucson Unified School District superintendent.

Jenness is applying for an ADA modification to teach from home—where she feels safest. If she doesn’t get it, she may just retire early.

“I’m a science teacher. I teach people to think rationally. There’s no mystery here to what safety means it’s not an ambiguous word and we don’t get to choose the virus has its own path,” she said.

TUSD will finalize plans for re-opening in the fall at the school board meeting on Tuesday, July 14, and said they are lobbying to push back the in-person start date. Teachers around the state are planning a motorcade protest Wednesday, July 15 during rush hour.

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