TUSD swears-in three returning board members

Tombstone Unified School District Governing Board Vice President Keith Guin, right, swears in returning board members Rick Shelley, Mike Hayhurst and Randy Keeling at the start of Wednesday evening's board meeting. 

TOMBSTONE — In the first board meeting of the new calendar year Wednesday evening, Tombstone Unified School District Governing Board members were presented with a number of updates and agenda items.

Much of the meeting centered on such COVID-related discussions as when the district’s students would return to in-person learning, COVID’s impact on teachers, students, parents and staff, consideration of a recommendation to discontinue hybrid learning and deciding whether the district would participate in winter sports.

Three returning governing board members were sworn into office at the start of the meeting.

Board member Keith Guin conducted the swearing-in ceremony for Rick Shelley, Mike Hayhurst and Randy Keeling.

Hayhurst, who had been serving as the district’s board president, nominated Shelley as new president, with the nomination receiving board approval. Guin was voted-in as the board’s vice-president.

On the subject of COVID and its impact on schools, TUSD Superintendent Robert Devere talked about Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address in which the governor said, “We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure.”

Devere said the governor’s comments will not impact the state’s current school funding mechanism, but could go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year if approved by state legislators.

However, Ducey is pushing for schools to reopen, despite the state’s rising COVID cases. Reopening schools presents concerns with a number of faculty and staff members who are worried about potential exposure to COVID, Devere said. Currently, TUSD’s three campuses (Tombstone High School, Walter J. Meyer School and Huachuca City School) are closed to in-person learning.

Setting a date for returning to in-person instruction appeared on the meeting’s action agenda.

“This is a very tough decision with so many factors that must be considered,” said Devere, who noted the district’s teachers and staff are split down the middle when it comes to reopening the schools.

After some discussion, the board approved returning to in-person instruction on Jan. 19. Based on Devere’s recommendation, board members voted to offer in-person and remote instruction only, and will be dropping its hybrid option.

“Hybrid as an option, along with the other two instruction styles, has proven to lack effectiveness for students and presents problems for teachers,” Devere wrote in an email to board members. “All three principals (David Thursby, Scot Roppe and Kevin Beaman) and I strongly recommend dropping the hybrid option.”

In that same email, Devere presented the following reasons for the recommendation:

The hybrid option creates inconsistencies in the attendance reporting system;

Many parents are not following the set schedules;

Parents are not always aware of when their students are not attending school in person;

Students tend to treat the remote-learning days as days off from school;

The hybrid option is the No. 1 issue that needs to be fixed, as identified by teachers at all three campuses.

Board members also voted to allow participation in winter sports — basketball, soccer and wrestling — with games starting the first week in February.

While Devere did not recommend participating in wrestling because of its “indoor, high contact nature,” the board approved all three winter sports.

In his districtwide update, Devere discussed state-funded construction projects that will be happening throughout the district, financed with School Facilities Board money.

Devere talked about a pre-construction meeting regarding work that will be starting at Huachuca City School to bring the campus into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. The $335,000 project is fully funded by the SFB and will bring major upgrades to the school’s sidewalks, restrooms and other areas of the campus where ADA deficiencies have been identified.

“We have a lot of construction projects that are going to be happening around the school district,” Devere said. “We’ve been talking to you for four-and-a-half years about this project at Huachuca City School, and we now have full funding from the School Facilities Board.”

The ADA work at Huachuca City School represents one of six SFB-funded projects throughout the district for a combined total of nearly $3 million, Devere said.

In other news, the sale of the old Tombstone High School property on Fremont Street is still in the works.

Devere said there are buyers interested in the property, based on a lease-purchase arrangement. The property has been for sale since 2006, when Tombstone’s current high school opened. Through the years, potential buyers expressing an interest in the historic old building have come and gone. With hopes of getting the property sold, the board approved a listing agreement extension with Long Realty.

The district’s next governing board meeting is 5:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Huachuca City School Library.