Chandler Unified returning to virtual learning amid threat of teacher sickout over COVID-19 worries

Officials with the Chandler Unified School District have decided to return its students to virtual learning, as teachers threatened a sickout due to concerns over COVID-19, as the state continues to see a surge in new cases.

According to FOX 10's Jennifer Martinez, the district will return its students, from preschool to the 12th grade, to virtual learning starting from Jan 6 to Jan. 19.

Meanwhile, Jan. 5. will be a non-student day for teachers to prepare for virtual learning. The decision was made following a school board meeting on Jan. 4.

CEA Survey: majority of teachers surveyed don't feel comfortable returning to work

As recently as Jan. 3, the district had plans to start in-person classes on Jan. 5, as students return from winter break.

However, the Chandler Education Association (CEA) surveyed 1,200 teachers in their respective district, and said 65% of them did not feel comfortable returning to work on Jan. 5. 70% of those polled said they would feel more comfortable if schools could revert to online instruction for the first two weeks of the year, officials said.

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." CEA officials wrote. "But many of our educators agree...that it’s worth the temporary allow for COVID to come back under control."

Read the full statement here:

"Educators resoundingly would like to be virtual for these first two weeks to mitigate the post-holiday travel risks," said Katie Nash, President of the Chandler Education Association. "The community spread is significant at this point. We do not feel safe returning to in-person instruction."

On Jan. 4, some teachers in Chandler held a car parade and drove to CUSD's office, where they hope to persuade the district's Governing Board to do a temporary return to virtual learning.

Had district leaders decided to go ahead with in-person learning, Nash says teachers are prepared for a sickout, which is what they did a month ago.

"Then, we had a few hundred folks call out sick that Friday post the Board meeting, and we could have a similar situation tomorrow, depending on the outcome of the board meeting," said Nash.

Gilbert teachers also planning sickout

Letter from the Gilbert Education Association

Teachers in Chandler are not the only group of teachers to threaten a sickout. In Gilbert, officials with the Gilbert Education Association addressed on Dec. 28, 2020 reports of a group of teachers planning a sickout in their district.

In a statement, officials with the GEA say they did not promote a sickout.

"The GEA Executive Board has not promoted a sickout due to the fluid situation brought on by the pandemic and various views of members and non-members," GEA officials wrote in a statement. "We believe constructive discourse is the best action to work together for all stakeholders."

The GEA made their own recommendations for the Gilbert Public Schools (GPS) School Board, including:

  • Hybrid learning for two weeks once the school year begins
  • Following state COVID-19 guidelines to guide district decisions about returning to in-school learning
  • Updating the GPS COVID-19 dashboard daily

The organization also recommended that the district create a COVID committee to tackle these issues.

"Gov. Ducey said we should keep schools open safely, and he's said, on many occasions, safely is basically guided by the state health department. The state and county health benchmarks we have been following all say we should be virtual right now, about three weeks running. We need to follow those guidelines," said one teacher, during a school board meeting in Gilbert.

State, school district officials respond

Prior to the district's decision to return to virtual learning, Chandler Unified School Districtg's Community Relations Director, Terry Locke, said the district plans to rely on substitutes, deans and assistant principals to cover classes if necessary.

On Dec. 16, 2020, officials with Gilbert Public Schools say they plan to return from Winter Break on Jan. 5 for a week of hybrid learning, before returning to in-person learning five days a week. The district held a governing board meeting on Jan. 4.

Arizona State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman took to Twitter on Jan. 2, requesting that schools statewide return to online learning for two weeks to combat the COVID-19 surge.

However, Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the governor "will not be considering this request or issuing this kind of mandate. This is a local decision. The online option is already available, and the governor has repeatedly made his preference clear: Kids have already lost out on a lot of learning, and he wants schools opened, safely."

Parents speak out during school board meetings

As teachers and school district officials debate over what should be done, some parents say kids should return to virtual learning.

"If we allow kids to return to school tomorrow, every statistical projection will tell us cases will increase, and we will be forced to close. It's inconsiderate to parents, teachers, and students," said one parent, during a Chandler Unified School District board meeting.

Other parents, however, have differing opinions, with one parent saying he supports the teachers' right to do what they are doing.

"I would be inconvenienced certainly if I had to stay home with my son, so I would be disappointed for the circumstances I would be under, but I wouldn’t withdraw my support for the teachers’ rights to do what they are doing," said Jake Hansen.

Some parents say kids need to return to in-person learning.

"if you vote for our kids, you will not stand alone.

f these teachers walk out, we will walk in, we will volunteer, we will sub, we will do whatever it takes to keep our kids on school," said one parent, during a Gilbert school board meeting.

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