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Valley districts sound alarm about impact of large gatherings on schools

Posted at 5:55 AM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-06 07:55:50-05

"I think if we want school to be open, if we want X, Y and Z to be open, we've got to do some hard work,” says Lindsay Love, a Chandler Unified School District Governing Board member.

Gilbert and Chandler's school governing boards continue to face tough decisions based on the communities’ commitment to following mitigation strategies.

"We can't have kids running around at the park with no mask; we can't have kids going to Fat Cats. We need to stay home and help everybody stay safe so the metrics can go down,” says Jill Humpherys, Gilbert Public Schools Board member.

“We had a holiday break and we had a house party of how many hundreds of students? So, I don't really think that our community is taking this seriously,” says Love.

The house party took place in Gilbert on New Year’s Eve, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Cell phone video of the event shows dozens of people gathered together, ignoring social distancing and disregarding the limitations on large gatherings.

"I really think that some of these large group gatherings, particularly in our community, are a slap in the face to our educators. For people to get on social media to celebrate that, is absolutely disgusting,” says Love.

These types of gatherings are just one reason why Chandler Unified is going virtual for two weeks.

"The lack of regard for other individuals is very, very concerning,” says Barb Mozdzen, Chandler USD President.

Gilbert Public Schools echoes those sentiments. The governing board ultimately decided on hybrid learning for the entire month. Still, many questions surrounding ways to prevent large gatherings remain.

"When we have the kids in school less, it's my sincere belief, and I respect that others disagree, it’s my sincere belief that we actually contribute to kids being out more, socializing more. It may not be our intention but that's what happens,” says Reed Carr, Gilbert Public Schools Board member.

This is not a new problem. In fact, the Scottsdale Unified School District asked for community support in October after a COVID-19 outbreak at Chaparral High School, partly due to large gatherings.

Will Humble with the Arizona Public Health Association says it’s up to the community to change.

“We can put together a great plan implemented in school but when the bell rings, they go home and if they blow it all off, it's going to cause a chain of transmission,” says Humble.