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COVID spikes spur debate over whether to close some Tucson schools

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 10:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A debate is raging in Tucson Unified school district over possible closures because of spikes in COVID cases.  

One of the board members insists that the district has the authority to shut down schools when there’s widespread illness.     

TUSD’S superintendent stands by his statements. The district doesn’t have the authority. Gabriel Trujillo has said severe staffing shortages could shut down schools, but that’s not the case with widespread illness.     

Teachers, students and board member Sadie Shaw want the district to shut down schools and go remote to control the spread.      

This issue surfaced again after Shaw posted on her Facebook page a few days ago that Trujillo’s information to the board on Jan. 4 is false.      

Trujillo and two board members said the authority to close schools doesn’t rest in the hands of the district.

The Arizona Department of Health Services says it doesn’t have authority.      

“Whatever is done won’t go through the ADHS,” a spokesperson said.      

The Pima County Health director emailed Shaw, stating it doesn’t have the authority to close schools either. Trujillo says he’s simply following state law.

And the state law gives the ADHS Director authority to issue an order to close school due to widespread illness.

“I mean that’s the nice thing about state law, it doesn’t lie. You’re looking at state law. You have statutory language. Regardless what ADHS talking points are, the law’s the law,” Trujillo said.

Trujillo said that district policy requires us to seek approval from the Arizona Department of Education if we are to close school due to widespread illness.”

A department spokesperson said the ADE doesn’t have jurisdiction over school closures “and would defer any other questions on that authority to individual school boards, health officials and/or the Governor’s office.”

But the district, Trujillo said, doesn’t have that authority.

“I appreciate the story and I know that the story is that we were not honest in our statement. And the story is just not there. I’ve shown you the law and I stand by my statement and make it again here today,” Trujillo said.

A spokesperson from Gov. Doug Ducey said schools should remain open and “kids belong in the classroom.”

Both Sadie Shaw and the Ducey’s spokesperson said the law is broad and subject to interpretation.

Shaw says the district needs to be proactive, not reactive, for the sake of public health. She is expected to address this school closure issue at tomorrow’s board meeting.

She said she plans to propose the formation of a board committee, consisting of parents, community and staff, to analyze these situations to come up with consistent policies.

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