On January 13, the CUSD Governing Board voted 3-2 to resume in-person instruction for all grade levels on Tuesday, January 19. While we recognize that these decisions are incredibly difficult, the Chandler Education Association is disappointed in this vote, and does not believe it is in the best interest of our community.
In their presentation arguing for a return to in-person instruction, district administration cited this report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Board member Lara Bruner pointed out that many parts of this report state community spread cannot be ignored as a factor when deciding on instructional models. CEA has previously referenced other research that also makes clear that in communities with high COVID infection rates, schools do contribute to community spread. We are disappointed that this point was minimized or ignored.
Even since the January 13 meeting, more data has come out to support the conclusion that schools contribute to community spread. Saturday morning, The Wall Street Journal released an article summarizing new research in Europe that found “schoolchildren, even younger ones, can play a significant role in spreading infections.” Closer to home, Arizona has seen a 4000% increase in COVID child hospitalization rates between May and November as shown in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Pediatrics, and Arizona continues to “lead” the country in COVID statistics, currently ranking 1st in the country in COVID cases per capita with 116.9 average daily cases per 100,000 people (compared to a current national average of 66.8 per 100,000, and to an Arizona average of 84.6 per 100,000 when we released our last statement on December 30). Even on the day of our Governing Board meeting, health care officials from across the state argued against returning to in-person learning due to Arizona’s extraordinarily high COVID rates.
Like those health officials, we acknowledge that in-person instruction is preferred by many students and parents in our community, and we miss being able to teach our students in person, too. But after voting to move to virtual instruction on January 4 due to high community spread and other factors, our Governing Board voted to resume in-person instruction just over a week later, when the COVID numbers in Arizona were just as bad as (or even worse than) they were the week before.
Many community members and staff felt the CUSD Governing Board ignored their concerns regarding community spread and the lack of social distancing. Despite promises of “increased mitigation,” it is difficult to see how social distancing (a key mitigation technique when fighting COVID) can feasibly occur given our physical spaces and student populations, particularly in our secondary schools.
Chandler rightly prides itself in being a “district of choice,” but for parents who read this research and want to keep their children safe, their choices are limited. Chandler Online Academy currently has a waiting list which limits students’ ability to enroll, and many of the specialized courses (particularly Advanced Placement courses) our students need to learn at their level are not offered by COA. It leaves our special education students, from preschool through grades 12, without a virtual option and puts our special educators and service providers at greater risk. Our students (especially our junior high and high school students) can’t choose to socially distance in hallways and classrooms where that isn’t physically possible.
Simply put, with COVID rates this high in our community, opening our schools is not safe for children or for adults. We are beyond disappointed that our state and federal governments have not made controlling COVID a higher priority, as lowering rates in the community would make our schools safer to attend in person.
We urge our district leadership and Governing Board to reconsider their decision and return to virtual learning until COVID spread in our community is under control.
The Chandler Education Association Executive Board