Tucson schools prepare to open their doors the first week of August for K-12 students.
With heightened fears after the Robb Elementary School massacre in May, parents expressed concern to school districts about safety procedures.
The Amphitheater Unified School District governing board members said they hired an external independent school safety expert to conduct safety assessments of schools in the district during a meeting on Tuesday, July 26. They said the expert is a former law enforcement officer and they will be presenting their findings to the public this week.
Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo held a press conference on Wednesday, July 20, to announce safety developments, staffing shortages and a minimum wage increase for TUSD employees.
TUSD schools and Amphitheater schools are back in session starting Thursday, Aug. 4.
“Our operations team, working with our school safety team, are doing a very thorough assessment of each campus’s security and safety infrastructure capacity specifically around fencing, gates, doors, locks, keyless entry systems,” Trujillo said. “We’re going to be coming to the governing board with a comprehensive package to make improvements and investments in those areas.”
Trujillo said they won’t have the budget to address every safety issue in the district, but certain changes will be prioritized. The district will prioritize funding for campuses that don’t have exterior fencing, surveillance systems, and campuses that need exterior fences replaced or fixed.
Trujillo said the district will also be announcing a new visitor procedure in response to an incident that occurred last May at Tucson High when a fight broke out between a parent and a student on campus.
“Coming into a school there’s going to be strict, designated places where they’ll (parents) have to check in and visits will largely be supervised and that they can expect that they’ll probably end up being escorted from place to place, depending on what their business is on the campus,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo reported TUSD is experiencing teacher and bus driver shortages. The district is looking to fill 25 middle school and high school math teacher positions, 50 vacancies for a variety of special education positions and 55 bus driver positions. Trujillo said the bus driver vacancies have improved from the vacancies the district endured the year before.
The district has 300 substitute teachers available to fill positions but Trujillo admitted those numbers haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, when the district had 800 substitute teachers.
Even with subs, Trujillo said the district will have to go in and reassess class sizes to dissolve some of those vacancies.
“The goal is never going over,” Trujillo said. “Targeted class sizes are laid out in the TUSD TEA (Tucson Education Association) consensus agreement and we try to hit those.”
The TUSD TEA consensus agreement sets limits to the number of students in specific classroom settings, like 24 students in a high school classroom or 12 autistic students to one special education teacher.
The TUSD board voted during its Tuesday, July 12, meeting to raise the internal minimum wage to $15 an hour with the approval of TUSD’s Fiscal Year 2022-2023 Expenditure Budget.
“We were able to make that happen and bring the entire workforce into TUSD to the minimum level of $15 an hour,” Trujillo said. “We will be coming back in November to be addressing any related salary compression issues that have emerged as a result of this internal movement.”
In regards to COVID-19 safety precautions, Trujillo said the district adjusts its COVID-19 restrictions in accordance with Pima County transmission levels. During the press conference, COVID-19 transmission was low. Trujillo said low County transmission would result in a mask-optional policy.
“We are still keeping up with our COVID protocols with regard to cleanliness, with regard to having hand sanitizer present in every office in every classroom, with having masks available for those that request them, committing to deep cleaning our buses, in our cafeterias and our classrooms,” Trujillo said.
In a statement to Tucson Local Media, Flowing Wells Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Stoltzfus said the district has evaluated every school site and is working on upgrading safety measures like fencing and door locks for campuses in need.
“Additionally, we are integrating a new emergency notification system that will empower employees to initiate crisis alerts much more quickly, with the goal of mass notification in just a few seconds from the time a dangerous individual is first identified on campus,” Stoltzfus said.
The first day of school for the Flowing Wells District is Thursday, Aug. 4.
Stoltzfus said the district has four teacher vacancies, but their pool of substitute teachers has grown in comparison to last school year.
Stoltzfus said parents and students can look forward to progress on two buildings, the Community Learning Center and Early Childhood Center. Both buildings will be finished in the spring and will provide two new early childhood classrooms.
“Additionally, the bond-funded construction at Laguna Elementary School on Shannon Road will create new classrooms, office space, and outdoor play and learning areas,” Stoltzfus said.
Julie Farbarik, director of alumni and community relations for Catalina Foothills Unified School District, said in a statement to Tucson Local Media the district conducted thorough safety assessments over the summer. She said they won’t be sharing specifics to the public due to security reasons.
“This year, we hired 55 new certified staff members, which includes teachers and counselors,” Farbarik said. “We are still looking for two fifth-grade teachers (one is in our Spanish immersion program), an elementary P.E. teacher and a middle school Spanish teacher.”
First day of school for Catalina Foothills District and Marana Unified School District is Monday, Aug. 8.
Sunnyside Unified School District (SUSD) Superintendent Jose Gastelum said the district had a safety town hall meeting for the community on Thursday, July 7.
“Our goal was to bring comfort to them in terms of letting them know that this is a priority, the safety of our students has always been our top priority,” Gastelum said.
Gastelum said there were safety audits conducted over the summer at district schools. The first day of school for SUSD was Wednesday, Aug. 3.
“All of our schools have wrought iron gates, our middle and high schools have security guard shacks as you enter the property,” Gastelum said. “Also, all of our elementaries have caged controlled entry and exit areas so if you come in somebody has to buzz you in to come in.”
SUSD school employees have access to radios with frequencies set to communicate with law enforcement. Campuses are also equipped with security cameras and a district security team. Additionally, students have access to a new “See Something, Say Something” anonymous reporting system on their electronic devices.
“If there’s a message to our parents, it’s that we’re paying close attention to it (safety), it’s a priority of ours and we want to really provide their children a great school experience; it should be an experience where they can come and enjoy school,” Gastelum said.