TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Most classrooms have been dark for about a year.
Tucson Unified has remained remote-only for nearly all students, but all that changes March 22.
Thousands of TUSD students are returning to the classrooms.
The question is — who will be teaching them?
Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo answered, “Right now, we’re pretty much fully staffed. When I say fully staffed, that doesn’t mean we don’t have teaching vacancies. As most of you know, we have to cover teaching vacancies with subs. Usually long term subs.”
Long-term substitutes, like Delores Devera. She’s worked consistently for the district since 2012, including this school year, but this next quarter is now up in the air.
“If I find teaching with all this (PPE) is too difficult, I’m probably not going to do it,” she said.
And there’s no way to know, she said, until she’s back in the classroom. “If kids are defying the rules and if I find that having to clean up in between classes is too stressful, you know, I may take a break.”
She’s not alone in that line of thinking — the need to take a break or concerns about COVID safety.
District records show a few dozen recent substitute resignations, as well as efforts to fill the empty slots.
"They told us the fill rate was around 70% — so seven out of ten times when there’s a request for a sub, they’re able to fill it. That means three out of ten times, they cannot fill it. They were up in the 90s before the pandemic,” Devera said.
Delores is also worried substitutes may not have received all the necessary training in how to teach on Zoom. "We had some training, but it was just those very basics on how to teach on ZOOM, so I actually ran some training classes for some of my friends. If the district’s not going to do that, I think that’s going to cause a shortage,”she said.
A shortage of substitutes, teachers, and even support staff is a concern for the district.
We’ve reported on more support staff resigning or retiring during the pandemic and recent district records show that trend continuing.
Trujillo says there’s no way to know right now if there will be enough staff to run a particular school or classroom. “We went through that with the walk out, right? So I mean, I guess if you wanted a nuclear example, we have a real time example from recent history.”
When huge swaths of staff, he said, left for an extended period of time.
“If we don’t have the adult supervision necessary to secure the learning space, which is the classroom or anywhere else on the campus, your only option - and that’s effectively what happened with Red for Ed - is we have to close," said Trujillo.
Other Southern Arizona districts reported closing schools during the pandemic because they didn’t have enough staff to run them.