Tolleson Union High

ZIP code data provided by Maricopa County shows the Tolleson Union High School District is “in the red,” above guidelines for reopening of classrooms. The TUHSD governing board voted to continue remote teaching through the fall, even as other districts around the West Valley reopen schools.

The Littleton Elementary School District governing board voted to approve a modified return to in-person classes beginning Thursday, Oct. 22.

While most other West Valley school districts have reopened classrooms or will do so this month, Tolleson Union High School District’s governing board voted Oct. 6 to wait until next semester for students to be in classrooms.

“We are remaining online through the entirety of the first semester,” said Joseph Ortiz, a TUSHD spokesman.

In a letter to families, TUHSD Superintendent Nora Gutierrez noted that previously, “We had indicated to you that we would be providing online learning through Friday, Oct. 9, in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus in our community, as well as for the health, wellness and safety of our students and our staff.”

The original plan to reopen classrooms changed.

“The Governing Board met on Tuesday, Oct. 6, and made the difficult decision that all schools in the Tolleson Union High School District would remain with the current online learning model for the remainder of the first semester, concluding on Friday, Dec. 18,” Gutierrez wrote.

She noted the district is “closely monitoring” metrics provided by the state and county.

She said most recent data showed the district “positivity rate” is above 9%, “well above the 5% rate required for students to return to in-person learning on campuses.”

While Gov. Doug Ducey gave districts the power to make decisions on when and how to reopen classrooms, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health provided “target benchmarks” for districts to use as a guide to safely return to in-person learning.

The benchmarks:

• Reported cases less than 10 cases per 100,000 of population.

• A percent positive number below 5% positivity.

• The number of COVID-like illnesses below 5% for two consecutive weeks.

Information is updated every Thursday at maricopa.gov/5594/school-metrics.

Data updated the day after the letter from Gutierrez showed TUHSD positivity dropped slightly—but 7.77% was still above the 5% benchmark.

And at 59 cases per 100,000, TUHSD remained nearly six times higher than the benchmark of 10 cases per 100,000. The city of Tolleson is even higher, with 82 cases per 100,000—though Tolleson’s number of cases fell from 100 per 100,000 the week before.

By comparison, Goodyear had 38 cases per 100,000, Litchfield Park had 37 cases per 100,000, Buckeye had 30 cases per 100,000 and Avondale 26 cases per 100,000, according to the county’s COVID-19 metrics tracker.

COVID-like illness was 2% for TUSHD, the only one of the three benchmarks that met the guidelines for safe reopening of classrooms.

“We recognize the impact that this decision has on our families,” Gutierrez said. “Our Governing Board and I believe that this is the best decision for the health, wellness and safety of our students and our staff. We will continue to monitor the data and we invite our community to also keep abreast of the COVID-19 metrics for our area.”

She stressed TUSHD “will continue to focus on academic achievement for our students and provide support and resources for them to be successful with targeted interventions, connectivity, technology, and caring teachers and staff.”