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TUSD's Trujillo urging Az to plan for 'longterm inevitable shutdown' for coronavirus

"A long-term closure of schools in Arizona is inevitable" due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said a group of school superintendents, including TUSD's Gabriel Trujillo, asking for the state to adopt a "clear plan" for budget and educational impacts of the virus.

The Tucson Unified School District chief joined more than 50 other K-12 leaders from around the state in asking officials to respond to "essential recommendations that will be necessary for Arizona — our students, our school systems, our communities, and our economy — to survive the unavoidable shutdown."

Noting that several districts and charter schools have already closed, Trujillo and the others said "the remaining will soon be forced to do the same." With guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control recommending school closures for the coronavirus outbreak run 8-20 weeks, a plan is necessary, they said.

The governors of at least 18 states — Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington state, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — have ordered the closure of all schools, with more than 30 million students affected. Some districts in New York, California and elsewhere have also shut down because of COVID-19.

The Arizona school leaders proposed a "bold decision" to allow districts and other schools to reduce the typical 180-day and alternate 200-day academic year requirements, while continuing the same funding.

"This would enable schools and school systems to provide modified, alternative, and even online education... and ensure that all non-certificated employees continue to get paid," they said.

"With this flexibility," hundreds of thousands of school district employees throughout the state will "experience a gap in pay that could last months, resulting in a crushing blow to families and the economy," the group wrote.

Among the group's recommendations:

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The Arizona Board of Regents should "create guidelines, flexibility and perhaps even waivers for high school seniors transitioning to college."

The Department of Education should craft budget guidelines allowing for flexible school years and consider the implication of four-day work weeks.

The superintendents emphasized keeping funding at normal levels. They cautioned that a large number of low-income families do not have reliable Internet access, which would interfere with a move to online courses for K-12 students.

They called for canceling AzMERIT and AIMS testing for this year, and for flexibility in graduation requirements for high school students.

"Food services and transportation funding and flexibility needs to be granted" so schools can "continue to offer food to students as well as consider the use of buses to transport food to community-based locations," they said.

The school leaders called on the Legislature to ensure that hourly school employees can be paid during a shutdown, by deeming their pay not a "gift of public funds" under the law, or having employees engage in alternative work, such as professional development and planning.

The Legislature should allocate extra funding in case the school year needs to be extended into the summer, Trujillo and the group said.

Business leaders will have to "consider the impact that school closures have on families and the general workforce," they said, calling for them to support free or reduced-cost Internet access, expanded sick leave, more childcare assistance and reduced service rates for those who "experience a financial crisis as a result of this shutdown."

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Trujillo at a TUSD Board meeting in 2017.