Once again, Chandler Unified School District is in the news because of reports that hundreds of educators are planning to call in sick on January 5. As part of our engagement with educators on the complicated issue of COVID and instruction, the Chandler Education Association surveyed 1200 staff members in mid-December. Some highlights of that survey include:

  • About 65% of respondents did not feel safe returning to work in-person on January 5th.
  • About 70% of respondents felt that delivering instruction virtually for at least the first two weeks following winter break would allow time for the community to reset following the holidays.
  • Just over 50% of respondents would feel safest if we remained virtual until the new Governing Board, with input from the district COVID task force, deemed it safe to return to in-person instruction.
  • About 30% of those surveyed feel safe with the current site-based metrics. 

Since that survey was conducted, the already grim statistics have gotten even worse:

  • Arizona is currently second in the nation in average daily COVID cases per 100,000 people over the last 7 days, trailing only California. Arizona’s 7-day average is 84.6 per 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 54.2.
  • Just yesterday, Arizona set new records in the following areas (for the first three areas, the previous record was set only one day earlier):
    • COVID-related hospitalizations (4,526)
    • COVID-related ICU occupancy (1,076)
    • COVID-related ventilator usage (750)
    • ER visits related to COVID (2,341)
  • The COVID dashboards for both Maricopa County and the state of Arizona (which were cited earlier in the year by our Governing Board to justify returning to in-person instruction) now recommend a full return to virtual instruction.

Given this data, it’s no wonder so many educators are frustrated, anxious, angry, and scared about returning to work. As concerning as these current numbers are, experts overwhelmingly expect things to get worse after the holidays as those who chose to ignore mitigation recommendations by traveling and gathering in large groups return to home and school, where community spread of COVID will surely accelerate. Our school and district buildings will not be immune to this reality … indeed, our classrooms, facilities, school buses and cafeterias are by definition places to avoid (large gatherings of people in enclosed spaces and the inability to properly social distance) during the COVID pandemic.

Our educators are right to ask tough questions about safety measures and how COVID numbers are impacting the decision-making process, and they are right to express their concern about how safe their classrooms are for themselves and their students. While many claim that schools are not significant sources of COVID spread, the actual science is far from conclusive, and in fact, research suggests that when infection rates are high (as they currently are within our district boundaries), schools do contribute to community spread. Our educators deserve a classroom and workspace that is safe according to the best available science, and they deserve to be heard as they express their valid concerns about those classrooms and workspaces.

While we applaud district administration for forming a COVID task force composed of educators and staff at all sites, we share the concerns of many CUSD staff members who feel this process should be more transparent and more immediate. With the CUSD Governing Board set to meet next over a week after this task force convenes, it will be impossible to take any meaningful action until post-holiday COVID spread will have already occurred.

Therefore, we call on CUSD to:

  • make available a live video stream of the CUSD COVID task force meeting on Monday, January 4
  • convene a special session of the CUSD Governing Board immediately following this task force meeting to discuss and take potential action on recommendations of the task force
  • shift to full-time virtual instruction until the new CUSD Governing Board has had time to consider and potentially implement the recommendations of the district task force

We are painfully aware that virtual instruction is not ideal for many students, and many of our educators agree that virtual instruction is one of the most significant challenges they have faced in their careers. But many of our educators agree with state and county health officials that it’s worth the temporary challenges to follow other East Valley districts and temporarily shift to full-time virtual instruction to allow for COVID to come back under control and for vaccination measures to take hold to help prevent what University of Arizona researchers say could potentially be “a catastrophe on a scale of the worst natural disaster the state has ever experienced.”

Respectfully submitted,
The Chandler Education Association Executive Board