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TUSD to spend $13M to reopen schools; says monitors, not teachers, might be in classrooms
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TUSD to spend $13M to reopen schools; says monitors, not teachers, might be in classrooms

Andrea Ayala, a teacher at Pueblo High School, decorates a car before the start of the Motor March for Safe Schools. The parade was part of a statewide initiative to make political leaders aware of their concerns about opening schools for in-person instruction.

Nearly $13 million will be spent in an effort to safely reopen Tucson’s largest school district as the coronavirus continues to ravage Arizona.

A big chunk of those funds are the result of TUSD’s decision to adopt an online learning model for all students, regardless of whether their parents keep them home or send them to school once the state deems it safe to do so.

Beyond paying for laptops and tablets and accounting for maintenance of those devices, the district will have to hire school monitors expected to supervise students as some teachers won’t physically be in classrooms, teaching remotely instead.

About 50% of TUSD families have said they want their children to return to in-person learning on Aug. 17 — the tentative start date set by Gov. Doug Ducey. Arizona Schools Chief Kathy Hoffman said Wednesday she and Ducey are reevaluating that date, according to Cronkite News.

Ducey is requiring school districts to offer a full academic year of in-person learning to any family who wants it for schools to be able to maintain funding levels comparable to last year’s.

When Tucson Unified School District opens, students who are doing in-person learning will be assigned a computer and a learning lab or work space with about 13 students to a room. That room will be overseen by a monitor, who will supervise the students, making sure they are safe and following health department guidelines around the coronavirus, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

Whether doing in-person or virtual instruction, students in the same class will be doing the same virtual instruction with the same teacher. That teacher does not need to be in the same physical space as the students, and may not be, with some teachers working from home and others at the school.

Having a completely virtual learning model will make it easier for individual schools or the district as a whole to switch to a remote-only option should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in a school or if the state calls for closures again.

Arizona leads the U.S. in new confirmed cases per capita over the past two weeks.

About 100 cars filled with Tucson Unified School District educators, parents and supporters participate in a Motor March for Safe Schools.

What students and parents need to know

All classes will be online, including PE and fine arts. There will be a mix of online curriculum, live lessons of core instruction that a teacher will do virtually and virtual collaboration with small online groups.

Students will have breaks during the day and opportunities to do offline work within the curriculum.

Students with special needs will be prioritized for in-person learning and will not have the same mask and social-distancing requirements but will be encouraged to wear face coverings and social distance to the extent possible, depending on a child’s sensory needs. The district will work with families to see which students meet the criteria for homebound services.

TUSD will be assigning a computer to each of its 44,000 students, regardless of how many students are in a home, making it a one-to-one district.

To ensure safety protocols while students are not in the classroom, there will be limited movement between classrooms. Lunch will be eaten on a staggered schedule and in designated spaces, marked for social distancing; and dismissal will be staggered with designated spaces to wait for pickup that promote social distancing.

“I want to assure you that this mode of instruction won’t be forever,” said TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Flori Huitt. “We are adapting to the current circumstances. We will be evaluating the state of affairs very closely with our health officials, so that if and once things do return to some degree of normalcy, we can begin offering a more traditional in-person model. And until that time, we feel that this provides equity of instruction and also a safe environment for all of those that are involved.”

What teachers need to know

The decision to allow some teachers to work remotely comes amid a national outcry from educators who do not want to put health and lives at risk by returning to in-person instruction while the coronavirus continues to surge.

In Tucson and Phoenix, teachers voiced fears from their cars Wednesday about returning to school, part of six “motor marches” organized by members of the Arizona #RedforEd group.

The group called on Ducey to close schools until case numbers trend downward.

TUSD has yet to decide which teachers will work remotely, though some Tucson Unified teachers say they are ready to return to the classroom, said Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo during the July 14 governing board meeting.

The district is working to identify teachers who want to physically return to the classroom as well as those who are medically vulnerable. At-risk teachers would be prioritized to work from home.

In an effort to allow teachers to focus strictly on academics, the district plans to have a monitor in each classroom, even when teachers are in the same space, to address issues like physical distancing and mask wearing.

Teachers who are in the classroom will be sufficiently distanced away from students.

Virtual class sizes won’t change, but the number of students physically in a room will be lower than typical class sizes to follow public health guidelines on social distancing.

What will it cost?

The TUSD governing board approved a $585 million budget Tuesday night, which included $12.7 million for its reopening plan and ongoing costs related to COVID-19.

The ongoing costs related to the coronavirus include:

  • $3.6 million for additional devices for remote learning
  • $750,000 to maintain laptops and devices
  • $1.26 million to increase the number of monitors on campuses
  • $230,000 to increase custodial staff
  • $834,000 for face coverings and gloves
  • $989,000 for hand sanitizer
  • $1.35 million in cleaning equipment and supplies
  • $499,000 for no-touch water bottle filling stations

These expenses are being covered by the $18.6 million that the district received from the federal CARES Act stimulus package.

The budget also included $7.6 million in salary increases and $3.2 million designated toward opening TUSD’s two new schools Tech High School and Wakefield Middle.

For TUSD’s complete reopening plan go to tusd1.org/nextsteps2020. Email answers2020@tusd1.org with questions and concerns. The governing board will vote on the final plan for reopening schools at the July 28 board meeting.

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

The Associated Press contributed

to this story.

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