Some TUSD schools combine classes amid staffing shortages

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 7:02 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The latest COVID surge from the omicron variant is weighing heavily on teachers and students trying to finish the school year strong.

Just a couple of weeks after returning to school from holiday break, southern Arizona’s largest school district is seeing staff shortages due to COVID-19. This combined with a limited substitute availability is forcing some schools to combine classes.

Certain schools in the Tucson Unified School District are facing a high number of teacher absences.

In a letter sent to parents, it explained that classes would be combined in common spaces such as the cafeteria and the auditorium with mitigation strategies in place. While this plan allows students to continue in-person learning, it may only be a temporary fix.

“While you had two or three adults out before and that’s why you’re bringing the kids into the cafeteria, now those adults who were watching the kids in the cafeteria may be exposed and may be out in the following days,” said Margaret Chaney, president of the Tucson Education Association.

The last two years of the pandemic have been hard enough for teachers. Now they are facing another challenge as more teachers get infected or leave the profession completely.

“You’re going in many, many different directions at once and you may not know the kids at a really large high school. We’re trying to make sure everyone is safe and that our students achieve,” Chaney said.

TUSD says the decision to combine classes is to make student supervision a priority and to prevent negative impact on students’ schedules. The district says they have 1,887 teachers absent. This is the most they’ve seen at this same time in the last two years.

“Nonetheless, teachers are devoted to making sure their kids can do what they can. It wears on you. It’s just physically, emotionally difficult. As a teacher, you’re in the classroom. You’re not just doing the curriculum. You’re working with your kids one on one and you’re seeing what they’re going through,’ Chaney explained.

At this time, the school district says they don’t have an estimate on how long schools will need to combine classes.

TUSD says if teacher absences continue to increase, district leaders will determine the next step based on a tiered plan to support schools during teacher absences.

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