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No in-person classes after holiday break at most Tucson-area public schools
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No in-person classes after holiday break at most Tucson-area public schools

Amphitheater and Tanque Verde join the list of Tucson-area school districts that have decided to revert to online-only learning because of the coronavirus’ spread.

Most Tucson K-12 students will be starting their second semester completely online, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spiral out of control across Pima County.

Amphi, Vail and Tanque Verde became the latest Tucson school districts to announce closing in-person classes for remote learning next semester, citing the steep rise in COVID cases throughout the county and the challenges that creates.

“We have learned that we have reached a tipping point where hybrid may no longer be the best option,” Superintendent Todd Jaeger wrote in a letter to families on Dec. 12.

The Pima County Health Department told schools on Dec. 11 to consider suspending in-person instruction as the coronavirus moves into substantial community spread.

The three Arizona Department of Health Services metrics measuring the severity of the virus moved into substantial spread last week — number of cases per 100,000; the COVID-19 test positivity rate; and COVID-like symptoms seen in hospitals.

Local health officials expect that to continue this week, moving those metrics into the red this Thursday, the last day before winter break.

Amphitheater will continue hybrid teaching this week and will move to the “Remote by Necessity” model when school resumes for the second semester on Jan. 4.

The Vail School District governing board voted Monday evening to temporarily transition to remote learning for a three-week period following winter break, until Jan. 25, in part due to large numbers of staff and students in quarantine, making it almost untenable to run schools in person.

On Dec. 14 alone, there were 21 classrooms in some form of quarantine in the Vail School District.

Tanque Verde School District, on Tucson’s east side, discontinued their in-person instruction on Monday, after a special board meeting over the weekend.

Like most local school districts, Tanque Verde will continue to offer limited in-person services for students who need it.

Tanque Verde School District, on Tucson’s east side, discontinued their in-person instruction Monday, after a special board meeting over the weekend.

Like most local school districts, Tanque Verde will continue to offer limited in-person services for students who need it.

Tanque Verde also cited a rapidly growing number of staff who were unavailable to support in-person instruction due to being in quarantine, mostly from close contact with positive cases. That’s a problem all school districts here are reporting.

Both Flowing Wells and Sahuarita school districts announced last Friday they would be returning to remote-only on Jan. 4.

Sunnyside, Tucson’s second-largest school district, stopped hybrid in-person learning after the Thanksgiving break.

And TUSD, the third-largest school district in the state, has stayed remote-only throughout the pandemic. It announced last week that it will stay remote into the second semester.

Vail Superintendent John Carruth is recommending a temporary transition to remote learning for a three-week period after winter break, until Jan. 25. The governing board is set to discuss the issue at a special meeting Monday afternoon.

Marana Unified had not made any announcement as of Monday evening about closing hybrid.

Although every school district previously said they were committed to following the county health department guidance, Marana Unified especially has had a vocal and consistent push from some parents to open schools.

Catalina Foothills plans to stay open with their current hybrid model.

“We want to keep our schools open,” said spokeswoman Julie Farbarik. “The COVID case numbers in CFSD are still very low, and our layered mitigation strategies are keeping schools relatively safe for students and staff.”

Transmission rates inside Tucson-area schools has been about 3% despite growing transmission throughout the community and a rising number of cases in schools — more than 1,000 cases since August.

Many local districts, including Amphi, Sunnyside and Flowing Wells, set a tentative date of Jan. 19 to return to hybrid classes. But those plans are dependent on the severity of COVID-19 at that time.

“Health experts believe that it is possible for the metrics to support hybrid learning again in this timeframe,” Jaeger said. “This date is not written in stone. As always, we will follow the recommendations of the experts.”

Contact reporter Danyelle Khmara at dkhmara@tucson.com or 573-4223. On Twitter: @DanyelleKhmara

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