John B. Wright Elementary School, 2020

Wright Elementary School student Yarani Martinez keeps to one side of a split hallway, one of the virus precautions being taken by the school because of the pandemic.

Tucson's largest school district plans to open schools for hybrid in-person learning on Nov. 12, following a split vote by the governing board. 

A TUSD survey found that 45% of families wanted to start hybrid, which will have cohorts of children split into morning and afternoon sessions, while 71% of teachers said they did not want to go back into the classroom with coronavirus cases on the rise yet again. 

The fear that TUSD teachers have to return to the classroom is one of the reasons Tucson Unified Board Member Rachael Sedgwick has been asking the district to wait until January or later to open. 

Board Member Adelita Grijalva also voted against the November date, saying she couldn’t approve something that she doesn’t even feel is safe for her own children.

Board Members Bruce Burke, Leila Counts and Kristel Foster voted in favor of the Nov. 12 start date.

Two of the drivers to open campuses are that students struggle more in remote learning and a worsening decline in student enrollment, which could create some hard financial decisions for the district. 

TUSD, which last year had 45,000 students, has already seen a 5.7% enrollment loss, or 2,500 students, which could mean a minimum of a $15 million budget reduction next year. 

Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said this budget shortfall would mean “structural level cuts that are going to be very, very difficult conversations.”

And the loss could be greater than $15 million. During just three weeks in October, TUSD lost about 450 students. Trujillo said he’s heard from principals that some families are leaving because the district isn’t open and other Tucson-area schools are.

“There have been families that have not been happy not having full-time supervision of their kids,” he said.

But the hybrid model is still not full-time supervision. In TUSD, it will be half days, and in many districts students are only on campus two days a week.

The Pima County Health Department supports school districts holding in-person hybrid instruction, and every other major school district in Tucson has reopened, though TUSD has a much larger student body and geographical footprint than any other district locally. 

Tucson Unified will continue to defer to the local health department on whether Nov. 12 continues to be a safe day to begin hybrid learning.


Join #ThisisTucson today. Members get access to our super secret Facebook group and discounts on merch.


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