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Chandler, Gilbert Schools Districts Preparing For Teacher Sickouts On Tuesday

The Chandler Unified School Districts and Gilbert Public Schools are preparing for possible teacher sickouts on Tuesday in response to districts holding in-person classes despite the state's recommendation for virtual learning for all Arizona schools. Both districts are responding to the reports of the sickouts by preparing their pools of subs, and other staff that may be need to fill in.

The Chandler Education Association, which is not involved with the sickout, asked educators in mid-December survey how they felt about returning to their classroom following winter break. About two-thirds of respondents said they did not feel comfortable. 

Chandler Education Association President Katie Nash said teachers worried about high rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations throughout the community. The district’s three COVID-19 metrics are all in the red.

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.

“We’re not just barely tipping into the red, we’re like way far into the red and at what point do we actually shut down the district?" Nash said. "It doesn’t seem like there’s any sort of metric for doing that.”

The Chandler district is offering families who choose the opportunity to have students attend virtual classes for the first two weeks back from winter break. 

Meanwhile the Gilbert school district is planning to resume classes on Tuesday in a hybrid format for the first week back from winter break. Beginning Jan. 11 all schools will return to in-person learning five days a week, with the possibility of moving to hybrid temporarily on a school-by-school basis based on the percentages of positive cases at each campus, the district said in a statement. But some Gilbert teachers and staff don't think this enough. Instead they would like to see district's shift to fully remote instruction while all three of its COVID-19 metrics are in red.

"While the “virtual” model is largely not the preferred method of instruction by educators, students, and families alike, we are not asking the board to make these changes because we would prefer it, but rather because it is the directive of the public health officials and medical workers combatting the outbreak of Covid-19," they said in an open letter to the Gilbert district. "More succinctly, we are not asking for what we want, but what our community needs."

Gilbert teachers' local union issued a statement against the proposed sickout. It fears it could hinder their relationship with peers, parents, students, community members, district administration and the governing board.

Meanwhile, the Chandler district is holding a meeting on Monday to review the metrics, gather input and discuss possible COVID-19 mitigation strategies. It’s governing board will meet Wednesday to review the committee's input along with COVID-19 data and decide an instructional path moving forward. The district is urging employees to report to work in the meantime. The Chandler Education Association doesn't think the governing board meeting is soon enough. 

“A lot of people are worried about if we even are in school for one or two days and then the board decides on the sixth that we should go virtual we’ve still been exposed to a whole bunch of folks during that time," Nash said. 

Other East Valley school districts such as Kyrene and Mesa have opted to shift to virtual instruction immediately after winter break. 

→  Get The Latest News On COVID-19 In Arizona 

Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.