CUSD educators roll up their sleeves for shots - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

CUSD educators roll up their sleeves for shots

January 31st, 2021 SanTan Sun News
CUSD educators roll up their sleeves for shots

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

At least 1,400 employees of the Chandler Unified School District have already received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and several hundred more are expected to get vaccinated in the coming weeks.

The school district was partnering with the Arizona Department of Health Services and local pharmacists to set up two point-of-distribution sites this weekend at Hamilton High and Perry High where teachers can line up to get vaccinated.

Any childcare workers or K-12 teachers living within the district’s boundaries – regardless of whether they work for CUSD – can visit one of the campuses on Saturday, Jan. 30, or Sunday, Jan. 31, to get one of the 6,000 doses allotted to the distribution sites.

“We anticipate being very busy on Saturday and Sunday,” said Superintendent Camille Casteel. “This really is going to be a team effort.”

Attendees will be receiving a dose of the Moderna vaccine, which requires a second dose at least four weeks later. Therefore, the district plans to host a second vaccination event on Feb. 27 and 28.

More than 100 volunteers will be helping to distribute vaccines this weekend, Casteel added, and CUSD aims to model its campuses after the drive-thru distribution site that’s been stationed at Chandler-Gilbert Community College for the last few weeks.

Unlike the CGCC distribution center – which is open to anyone eligible for vaccination – attendance at Chandler Unified’s distribution sites will be exclusively limited to education workers.

CUSD has spent the last week sending out letters to nearby charter and private schools, inviting them to have their staff sign up for a timeslot during this weekend’s distribution events. Educators without health insurance are still eligible to receive a vaccine from CUSD at no cost to them.

Chandler Unified is one of several school districts that agreed to partner with the state to speed up the distribution of vaccines for essential workers.

The Phoenix Union High School District turned four of its campuses into distribution centers earlier this month to administer up 1,500 vaccines over the weekend of Jan. 22 while several more districts are in the process of setting up distribution sites of their own.

School districts have also been tracking which employees have already gotten vaccinated through information that’s shared with local hospitals and health departments.

The push on vaccinations comes as the county health department on Thursday released data showing substantial virus spread in Chandler Unified and the city. All three metrics for measuring spread were well above the moderate spread levels.

COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people were up to 886 from 790 the previous week and positive new test results rose slightly to 21.9 percent. Percentage of hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms dipped slightly to 14.5 percent.

According to CUSD, between 1,400 and 1,600 of its employees have voluntarily received their first vaccine dose at another site and are waiting for their second dose.

If all 6,000 vaccines are distributed this weekend, then most of the district’s 5,000 employees could potentially be vaccinated by the end of this month.

The rapid vaccination could offer some comfort to parents like Swati Kadam, who has been agonizing for weeks about sending her daughter back to Hamilton High for in-person learning. The district is offering five-day in-classroom learning.

Kadam’s concerns about the pandemic have been heightened since her mother succumbed to the deadly virus in July.

She said losing her mother during the pandemic has made her think more carefully about how best to protect her family and that she became concerned for her daughter when CUSD reopened its classrooms on Jan. 19.

More than 100 new active cases of COVID-19 have been reported across the district’s 42 campuses over the last month and another 850 cases have been resolved after the student was cleared to return to school.

Some families still hope there may be another alternative to sending their child into a confined classroom with their peers.

Several parents have been contemplating their options, Kadam said, since the district decided not to set offer a temporary virtual learning option for students.

“There are many like us right now,” Kadam said. “We’re all in a strange place right now trying to figure out what to do.”

The pandemic has introduced a wide range of challenges for CUSD since it began almost a year ago. Nearly every decision the district’s made in response to the health crisis has angered some parents while relieving many others.

When the district’s Governing Board decided to start the spring semester with virtual learning for all students the first two weeks of this month, some hoped the trial period would be extended until COVID-19 levels drastically dropped.

“That’s what we are asking for,” Kadam noted. “We’re asking for a real, teacher-led virtual option.”

Chandler’s online school doesn’t work for many high schoolers, Kadam said, noting it lacks advanced courses and is incompatible with certain learning styles.

Parents like Kadam had hoped CUSD would keep its virtual option that has classroom teachers engaging with students through video applications.

Other nearby districts had found a way to maintain that choice for students who wanted it.

Kadam and some other parents attempted to protest the district’s decision by keeping their student home from school on Jan. 19.

The tactic garnered little attention from administrators so Kadam had her daughter return to school the following day.

“I don’t think it was big enough to make an impact,” she added.

Some parents and teachers tried circulating an online petition to get CUSD administrators to reconsider its switch back to in-person learning. By Jan. 27, more than 1,300 people had signed the petition.

“I want my children and I to stay safe,” one parent wrote on the petition. “The infection rates are way too high for us to safely be back to in-person instruction.”

Several Chandler Unified teachers have attempted to protest the district’s decisions by collectively calling in sick on certain days. And some have gone so far as to leave their job altogether.

One such teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she voluntarily resigned at the start of this semester.

“I don’t want to be forced to be in a situation where I know I’m not safe,” the teacher said.

As a mother to young children, she said she felt like she was being forced to choose between her family and her career. “The pandemic has pushed a lot of people into these corners,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

If the pandemic was to drag on into the next school year, CUSD would be led by a new interim superintendent because Casteel intends to retire in June.

An interim superintendent will be appointed by the board soon and will preside for up to a year or until the board hires a permanent replacement.

While a new superintendent could possibly redirect the district’s approach to handling the pandemic, whoever occupies that position would still have to convince a school board that has voted repeatedly to remain committed to in-person learning.