TUSD looks at March 24 start date for in-person learning

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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The largest school district in southern Arizona is considering an official start date to bring back thousands of students for in-person learning.

“There’s no way to open schools without schedule changes,” said TUSD Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo.

Those changes are set for Wednesday, March 24.

However, the response to reopening schools was mixed during a call to the audience at a board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

“We will gain nothing by returning to schools before spring break,” wrote one TUSD teacher. “Additionally, many teachers have not been able to get their vaccines yet. Sending us back without being fully vaccinated when we are this close is not the right choice.”

“I would urge you to consider the full-day return to school for Pre-K through 5th grade. Or, even just to the Pre-K through 3rd grade as soon as humanly possible,” a TUSD parent urged.

Last week, the district sent out a survey to parents.

At the K-3 and 6th grade levels, 55.5% of respondents supported fully remote learning. 35.9% preferred their children being on campus full-time.

At the 9th-12th grade levels, 77.9% of parents wanted a full-time campus experience for their teenagers. 86.1% were also happy with hybrid learning. 18.2% wanted to remain online only.

“The natural question is, why can’t we just bring everybody back? Why can’t we just have all the high school kids come back?” Trujillo asked. “The reason is safety. If you have thousands of students coming back onto campuses, you have thousands of students switching classes every 40 to 55 minutes. It’s going to be crowded.”

So, he made the following recommendations:

  • Bring teachers back to campus on March 22 to prepare.
  • Bring students back to campus on March 24.
  • Offer fully remote or fully in-person learning options at Pre-K, elementary and K-8 schools.
  • Offer half days in person/half days online or fully remote options at middle and high schools.

“A large portion of our Tucson community will not be vaccinated and as the largest school district I think we have to take the most care with how we approach the return,” said Sadie Shaw, a TUSD board member. “I am really hesitant to support going back on that date.”

“Having that commitment of a date that administration thinks is doable … I can wait if the [March] 22nd [date to bring teachers back] is what’s doable, I support that,” said Leila Counts, another TUSD board member.

The TUSD board is expected to continue discussions about the return classrooms. However, board members previously voted to give Trujillo the sole authority to make a decision about a start date. He says he will use health metrics as a guide.

Trujillo says the district has collected a detailed inventory of PPE at each school and new relief funding will be used to purchase more N95 masks and face shields. He adds custodial cleaning will increase upon the return of staff and students.

TUSD also extended its emergency COVID-19 sick leave for staff. Employees simply have to provide human resources with a positive COVID-19 test in order to qualify for the 10-day leave, which does not impact their PTO or accrued sick days.

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