East Valley districts plan for teacher sickouts

Teachers urge school boards to reassess plans to return to class in January
Getty-Southwest Elementary School
Posted at 4:42 PM, Dec 30, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-04 07:14:27-05

Teachers in at least two Valley school districts are planning sickouts this week to protest plans to return to in-person learning while the pandemic rages.

Gilbert Public Schools plans to have students start on Jan. 5. They will use a hybrid learning model for one week before returning to regular classroom learning.

The Chandler Unified School District is set to start full in-person learning on Jan. 5.

The end of winter break comes as hospitals are reaching capacity and health department guidelines recommend virtual learning models due to the rampant spread of coronavirus.

“We just keep looking at the statistics and how grim everything is getting,” said Katie Nash, president of the Chandler Education Association.

CEA surveyed Chandler’s teachers earlier this month, finding two-thirds are afraid to return to in-person learning for the start of the second semester. They worry about their health and their students. They spend eight hours a day with 25 to 30 people in a classroom. Even with mask use and disinfection efforts, teachers say it’s a high-risk environment.

“It’s not the same thing as being at a grocery store where you are spread out,” Nash said “It’s not the same thing as being in an office building where you can limit your contact with folks.”

Parents are stuck in the middle. Those who spoke to ABC15 see the teachers‘ side while having strong feelings about what’s best for their kids.

“High schoolers are really difficult to keep separated, so that’s a concern," said Colleen Gentry, a mom to two teens in Gilbert schools. “We had really high numbers, and that’s why they went to hybrid in the first place.”

“For them, staying home online learning is not very effective,” said Niti Garg, who has a first-grader and pre-k student in Chandler schools. “I am worried, but I still choose to make them go onsite in the school.“

Kathy Hoffman, state superintendent for public instruction, said she understands the teachers‘ fear.

The Arizona Department of Health Services set benchmarks for school learning models based on community spread of COVID-19. Currently, all counties are in the red category, meaning health officials recommend virtual learning.

“There is a way to use local data to support in-person or hybrid learning,” Hoffman said. “If that’s not clearly communicated and demonstrated, then I think that’s where we see these types of instances of teachers doing what they need to do to take care of themselves and their families."

The Gilbert Education Association sent a letter Tuesday asking its school board to consider several recommendations to ease teacher health concerns. The board meets Jan. 5.

According to the Chandler Education Association, a committee of teachers and other district staff is looking into whether additional coronavirus mitigation measures are needed in their schools. The committee is scheduled to meet Jan. 4. CEA is asking for classes to be held virtually at least until the school board can call a special meeting to review the committee’s recommendations, look at current coronavirus data, and hear from stakeholders.

A Gilbert district spokeswoman told ABC15 they “are working with our teachers and preparing our pool of substitute teachers should they be needed.” She added their goal will be to ensure appropriate coverage and no disruption to student learning.

ABC15 also reached out to the CUSD spokesman, but we were told that he and most other staff were out of the office and could not comment.