TOMBSTONE — In late June, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that spikes COVID cases would cause a delay in reopening Arizona schools to in-person classes.
The latest reopening date has been set for Aug. 17, and Tombstone Unified School District plans to stay with that date, even if it means starting the school year with fully remote classes, said TUSD Superintendent Robert Devere.
In a report to school board members at Wednesday’s board meeting, Devere said there are a “whole lot of unknowns and possible waivers” the district is facing as administrators and teachers prepare for the start of the new school year.
“The August 17th start was announced by the governor as an aspirational date, so that could get pushed back again when it comes to on-site classes,” Devere said. “If the governor decides against onsite instruction by August 17th, the district will start the year by offering remote classes.”
In the event the district opens remotely, Devere said staff will be going to different locations throughout the district to hold training sessions to familiarize students with the laptops the district is providing.
“They’ll learn how to log on, now to log into email accounts, how to set their new passwords and how to log into Microsoft Classroom,” Devere said. “This means we’ll be sending staff to all three TUSD school campuses, as well as to locations in Whetstone, Sierra Vista, Palominas and Fort Huachuca.”
While Devere said he looks forward to having the students in classrooms, the situation fluctuates constantly.
“There is some speculation that we may be seeing another executive order coming out of the governor’s office regarding the start of school, but at least we can move forward with a fully remote option,” he noted.
Once districts have a set date for in-person classes, Devere said parents will have three choices for their kids.
“The students can attend school fully onsite, or they can go with the hybrid model where they are onsite part of the time and studying remotely part of the time. And then there are the parents who may opt for the fully remote model.”
Devere’s report also touched on surveys the district conducted in June. The surveys — one sent to parents and the other to district staff — addressed protective measures to help keep students and staff safe from COVID once campuses are reopened.
The survey measured responses to four COVID-related issues: availability of sanitizing products; the need to take student and staff temperatures once daily; social distancing and requiring face masks.
“The most significant responses from staff and parents called for an increased availability of sanitizing, disinfecting and hand cleaning products,” Devere said.
“Survey respondents overwhelmingly supported hand washing and sanitizing.”
The district will be receiving 150 sanitizing stations which should be enough to last through the school year, Devere said.
Taking staff and student temperatures once daily was the second most significant response, with a slightly higher percentage of parents supporting the temperature checks than staff.
The need for social disancting and limits on gathering sizes received nearly an even split of responses, with the results slightly favoring distancing, Devere said.
“Of all of the items that we surveyed, face masks were by far the most polarizing. Most of the answers were split from absolutely important to not important at all,” Devere said. “When it comes to wearing face masks, people have very strong opinions on both ends of this issue.”
School athletics is another area that COVID has impacted.
“Athletic programs are another one of our big unknowns,” Devere said. “The AIA (Arizona Interscholastic Association) has pushed off the start of the athletic season until August 17th, which means we’ll be well into September when all fall sports start,” he explained.
The AIA is considering several different options, such as a shortened season as well as a conference only season. The option of canceling the entire fall season could also happen, Devere said.
“Hopefully, this is something that is not going to be pursued, but it has not been ruled out,” he added.
At the junior high level, the Cochise Athletic Conference (CAC) voted to cancel the first fall season for the upcoming year. The cancelation affects football, volleyball, cross country and cheer.
Board member and former football coach Mike Hayhurst questioned whether the district could work out an arrangement with some of the smaller schools in the southern part of the state to give students an opportunity to play a few games.
“I hate to see these kids not being able to play,” Hayhurst said. “Maybe we could work something out with San Manuel and other smaller junior high schools similar in size to ours.”
Huachuca City Principal Kevin Beaman was asked to check into the suggestion.
In a staffing update, Devere reported that all certified positions across the district are filled. There are, however, a few classified positions that still need to be filled. The district has openings for maintenance staff, bus drivers and teacher’s aides.