If an emergency situation were to occur in Tucson’s largest school district today, the type of alert parents receive would depend on where it happens.
Lacking a single, consistent notification system, some in the Tucson Unified School District may receive a manual phone call or a robocall, others may have to check a school’s website or social media account for updates, while others may get the news not from TUSD directly but the news media instead.
Come April, that will change with the purchase of a mass notification system — unanimously approved by the Governing Board on Tuesday.
The ParentLink system, which will cost $72,500 a year, will be in place for all campuses and have the ability to send emails, text messages and make robocalls. The district will upload parent contact information into the system and parents can sign up for other features.
“TUSD needs a consistent, reliable and information-age-era appropriate system to communicate quickly and efficiently with parents and staff across the district,” said TUSD spokeswoman Cara Rene. “Parents have asked for this, and we know we need it to ensure our families have timely communication and stay informed on important matters.”
The mass notification system will be used not only in emergency situations, but also for attendance callbacks and general standardized parent communication.
Much like emergency notifications, attendance callbacks will vary from campus to campus, with some having automated systems and others utilizing an employee to call students’ homes every day.
The Sunnyside Unified School District — the second-largest district in the city — has been using the ParentLink system for about three years, said spokeswoman Mary Veres. It is connected to the student information system and has the ability to make robocalls for one school, one grade level, multiple schools or the entire district. The Amphitheater School District also has a similar system in place.
For Ann-Eve Pedersen, a TUSD parent and education advocate, an automated emergency-notification system for a district that serves nearly 50,000 students at more than 80 campuses is a good investment.
“When a school goes into lockdown ... as a parent, we often don’t find out until the end of the school day when a letter comes home,” said Pedersen. “And in some cases that’s fine, but there can be anxiety, especially if you live near the school and can see police cars in the area. If you are trying to call, so is every other parent, and that immobilizes the phone lines.”
In other business, the TUSD Governing Board approved spending $2.6 million to replace 2,500 aging student computers.
The deal is part of an ongoing computer-refresh project that will replace 2,000 desktop and 500 laptop computers that are running a software system that has reached its end of life and cannot be upgraded.
“There will be no more security updates or patches to help it function ,” said Damon Jackson, chief information officer of technology services, of the existing equipment. “Our students deserve to learn in an environment that utilizes current technology.”
TUSD will be leasing the equipment, with the option to buy, allowing the district to spread out the cost over five years and avoiding the risk of having to pay the value of a computer if it gets lost, damaged or stolen.