Elementary students in the Amphitheater School District may not be able to participate in fire safety program presentations called Tucson Hot Spots due to district officials' concerns about missed class time.
An undated e-mail sent from Amphi Associate Superintendent Richard Hooley to Amphi elementary school principals urged those principals to withdraw their students from the presentations, which are scheduled for the last week of March and the first week of April at Flowing Wells High School.
Hooley, who is in charge of signing off on any district travel before it goes to the governing board for final approval, said he sent the e-mail because he was concerned about students missing class. At least two Amphi schools -- Donaldson and Harelson Elementary -- were scheduled to attend, said Jim Grasham, fire marshal for Northwest Fire. As of Friday, Donaldson Elementary had been the only school to withdraw from the presentation, Grasham said.
The presentation is given by a group of fire fighters from Tucson Fire Department, Northwest Fire/Rescue District and Pascua Yaqui Fire Department. The presentation consists of a puppet show to teach children about fire and bike safety and drowning prevention.
The presentation is scheduled at the Flowing Wells High School gym because it can hold up to 800 kids, said Tucson Fire Department Battalion Chief Randy Ogden. Several other schools from area school districts are scheduled to participate, he added.
But Hooley said that keeping the students in class and keeping with the curriculum is more important.
"We have to make judgments about time," Hooley said. "Between busing the kids back and forth, you can easily turn a 45-minute presentation into a two-hour field trip."
As of Friday, Harelson Elementary was still scheduled to attend, said Grasham.
Hooley said he also took into consideration the past wishes of governing board members, who he said have made it clear that classroom time is the first priority for students.
"They've talked relentlessly about travel, about field trips," he said. "My job is to advance direction given to me by the board."
However, representatives from Northwest Fire and Tucson Fire said they felt there was more to the district's objection to the program.
In his e-mail, Hooley also said "Northwest Fire often uses schools to increase funding and to generate public relations, that is, "'we are doing this for the children'" and that the district already does "plenty" with the organization.
Grasham said that statement made him feel like Northwest Fire was being targeted by the district. He said he did not know how Northwest Fire obtained Hooley's e-mail, only that it "wound up on my desk one day."
"The e-mail he sent was offensive to us," Grasham said, adding that the concern about missed class time was "certainly not what was conveyed in the e-mail."
Hooley said that his concerns about Northwest Fire using their school programs as a public relations stunt are not specific to Northwest Fire, but to any business that makes contributions to schools.
"I'm certainly not criticizing this, though," he said. "This is how people do business. They want to build a positive image in the community."
Ogden said he felt Hooley's e-mail brought in politics that he can't understand. Ogden expressed his concern at the board's March 12 meeting.
"I thought it was kind of disturbing that they would bring politics in," Ogden said in an interview Friday. "It's not like we're looking for business."
Ogden also said he didn't think that the presentation, which has been nationally recognized for its unique way of using puppetry to teach safety, was not more or less important than classroom time, "just different," he said.
He said it is also important for children to learn about "unintentional injuries" caused by fires, drowning and bicycle accidents in order to prevent them from happening.
"Unintentional injuries are the leading killers of kids in this country," he said, especially in Arizona, which has one of the highest child drowning rates in the United States.
Hooley said he is not critical of the program, and in fact has heard "great things about it."
Boardmember Mary Schuh, who has been a vocal critic of Northwest Fire's administration, said she had concerns about redundancy, since Northwest Fire visits schools in the fall for its Mini Musters program, where fire departments visit schools and classrooms to teach students about fire safety.
Grasham said that redundancy is actually what the departments aim for.
"It's redundancy that helps firm up what was taught in the classrooms," he said.
Schuh also said the governing board meeting was the first time she had heard about the conflict and had nothing to do with Hooley's e-mail.
Schuh said she is not against students taking time out from the classroom, but she also said the district needs to guard its students' time.
"I'm not anti-field trips, I've been a great supporter," she said. "But the only way you can do the curriculum is in the classroom."
Schuh also said the timing of the presentation is not optimal, since students will be returning from spring break and preparing for standardized tests.
"I have no problem with what the programs are trying to do," Schuh said. "We're very concerned right now because of test scores."
Ogden said he understands the schools' need to have students in the classroom as much as possible, but feels the Hot Spots program is worth an hour of their time.
"I question whether an hour out of the classroom will make a big difference in a kid's life," Ogden said. "An hour with us learning about safety might make a difference in a kid's life forever."
Both Ogden and Grasham said they have no plans to talk to the district further on the matter.
"I have to respect their decision," Ogden said. "They make their decisions for whatever reason they do."