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TUSD may close schools with high teacher absences due to omicron

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 7:14 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Like many school districts, TUSD is facing a staffing shortage due to the widespread illnesses caused by the omicron variant. In some cases teachers may already be sick or may not want to be exposed to the virus.

Pueblo High School had 28 teachers call in sick on Thursday, about half the staff. The district was able to hire 16 substitutes but it still left 12 classrooms without a teacher.

“When you cannot field the appropriate amount of staff members on a campus to adequately supervise kids to make sure kids are safe or to make sure you’re able to give hem a high quality instruction, we have a bona fide staffing issue,” said Dr. Gabrielle Trujillo, the TUSD Superintendent. “And I have full authority, as does the board, to take steps to close the school.”

The schools will be closed on a day to day basis which will be determined by how many teachers call in sick or are absent.

“We have three schools right now that are very challenged, Pueblo, Rincon and we’ve experienced some challenges at Pistor Middle School,” Dr. Trujillo said. “That’s not bad for 87 schools.”

The problem is not district wide he say but is confined to those schools right now but that is subject to change as the omicron variant continues to spread.

The Pima County Health Department reported more than 2,500 new school cases in the past week, raising the total to 11,609 cumulative cases since the school year began. That means nearly one in five cases I the past week alone. That’s cause for concern.

Dr. Trujillo says the district has the power to close the schools due to staffing shortages without state or health department approval. He says it’s the same reasoning the district will close a school for a day because it can’t insure the safety of the children because there’s not enough staff to supervise them or provide quality instruction.

While the goal is to keep kids in school rather than remote learning, the virus may dictate whether that’s possible in the very near future.

“If this latest wave doesn’t subside in the projected next two or three weeks, we may have to look at a week of remote here and there for some of the schools that are hardest it,” he said. “That may not be the news people want to hear, but in the interest of keeping everybody safe those are options we’re going to have to look at.”

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