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Students, teachers tell TUSD board of fears about layoffs

Sedona Naifeh, 9, a third-grader at Lineweaver Elementary School, tells Tucson Unified School District board members Tuesday night it would be sad to lose her music teacher.

Sedona Naifeh, 9, a third-grader at Lineweaver Elementary School, tells Tucson Unified School District board members Tuesday night it would be sad to lose her music teacher.

A student worried about losing her inspirational music teacher.

A teacher-librarian lamented possibly getting laid off after 30 years as an educator.

A parent fretted her autistic child wouldn’t continue receiving the critical attention he needs in his inclusive classroom.

Those were a few of the concerns voiced at Tucson Unified School District’s board meeting Tuesday night.

The remarks were the fourth display of dissatisfaction for a reduction in force in which more than 560 teachers on April 3 were told they may not be rehired for the next school year.

As the school day began Tuesday, about 500 of Cholla High Magnet School’s 1,658 students refused to go to classes and instead congregated outside the school at 2001 W. Starr Pass Blvd. and chanted “save our teachers.”

Across town at Van Horne Elementary, 7550 E. Pima St., parents of half the 197 students there kept them home Tuesday.

Then, as governing board members met in a closed session, students from Rincon/University High School’s concert choir performed outside the building where the board was meeting. The performance was to give the board a taste of what it might miss if the choir director isn’t rehired.

TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander said the Cholla incident was “very peaceful and the kids were back in school by 10:30 a.m.,” about three hours after they started the sit-in.

Lander said school safety officials would be on alert for similar activities at other schools this week, but said she had not heard of anything else being planned. She said she hopes there will not be any others.

“Certainly we want kids to stay in school. The administrators at Cholla encouraged students to go back in the classrooms and to write letters to the governor instead of sitting outside and not accomplishing much,” she said.

Cholla students not in their morning classes were marked absent, she said. Twenty teachers and four administrators at that West Side school have received layoff notices.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, the president of Van Horne’s Parent-Teacher Organization, Rich Harkins, said that new TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen had challenged schools to reinvent themselves to become more appealing and attract more students.

“At Van Horne, we did that. We’re trying to do an English immersion program and last week two-thirds of the people on the committee working on it got RIFed,” he said.

Sedona Naifeh, 9, a third-grader at Lineweaver Elementary, said her Opening Minds through the Arts instructor, who is teaching them to play the recorder, might not be there next year. “He gets us excited about music. It would be the end of the world if they took OMA away.”

Sally Lefko, teacher-librarian at Ro˚wore a grim reaper costume with TUSD on it, said she didn’t appreciate the threat of layoffs given to all librarians. “It’s not fair,” to do that to an educator of 30 years, she added.

TUSD officials say they had to send the layoff notices. State law requires districts to notify employees by April 15 if they might not be rehired. Facing state cuts of $20 million to $45 million, TUSD had to consider the worst-case scenario, Lander said. But she said there is hope many teachers would be rehired if cuts are not so deep.

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