TUSD in compliance with state’s reopening plan, staff and students will return March 22

Updated: Mar. 5, 2021 at 12:35 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is ahead of the curve when it comes to Governor Doug Ducey’s latest order.

Southern Arizona’s largest school district was already in compliance with the new law district officials say they didn’t see coming.

“There was certainly no consulting or heads up that this was going to be coming, nor did we wait for it,” said TUSD Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ducey mandated all schools return to in-person learning by March 15 or after spring break.

It means TUSD will need to bring students back a few days early. Originally, officials planned for a staggered return during the week of March 22. Now, all teachers and students participating in in-person instruction will return on Monday, March 22.

The back-to-school transition is months in the making. TUSD watched Pima County health metrics closely, sent out surveys and held meetings to get feedback from parents and teachers, revised schedules and implemented new safety measures.

It’s precious time Dr. Trujillo says they couldn’t have done without.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “It would be chaos; it would be chaos. That’s my critique of the Governor’s Executive Order. This Executive Order in a perfect world probably should have given districts more time. My heart goes out to any district that opened up for hybrid learning. Especially elementary [schools] that are in a hybrid mode right now [where] the kids come in physically on campus two days a week and are remote three days. The order doesn’t allow for that at the elementary level. So, a district in that situation has to midstream stop, reconfigure a bell schedule and move immediately to a five day a week in-person option and a five day a week remote option. To me, two weeks to figure all of that out is incredibly challenging.”

Right now, TUSD in compliance with its half day in-person instruction model for middle and high schools because Pima County is still in a “substantial” category of virus spread. However, officials are uncertain what will happen once Pima County enters the “moderate” category.

Time is also running out for parents to select a learning option for their kids. So far, 43% of students are staying remote, 37% are returning for in-person instruction and 20% of families have yet to respond.

“That puts us in full compliance of the Governor’s Executive Order,” said Trujillo. “Parents have the right to choose a virtual option, that’s what we’ve done.”

About 4,500 TUSD employees recently responded to a voluntary survey. Roughly 90% said they plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine and 80% said they have already received at least one dose.

If there is a COVID-19 outbreak at a school, Dr. Trujillo says the Pima County Health Department (PCHD) can recommend closures.

“But they also have to be approved by the Arizona Department of Health Services,” Dr. Trujillo said.

KOLD News 13 asked the Governor’s Office repeatedly about what happens to districts that do not follow the order. A spokesperson said Gov. Ducey “hopes districts make a sincere and good faith effort as it is the law.” However, no information on specific consequences has been provided.

TUSD finalized a $1.5 million purchase of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. 4,000 units will be installed throughout the district. 50,000 N95 masks are also being distributed to staff members.

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