Chandler Unified easing campus COVID-19 rules - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Unified easing campus COVID-19 rules

May 23rd, 2021 development
Chandler Unified easing campus COVID-19 rules

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

New mitigation measures released by the Chandler Unified School District show students won’t have to wear masks in the next school year and will be allowed to stand closer to each other.

After more than a year of social distancing and mask mandates, CUSD officials are planning to ease some of their pandemic-related restrictions and begin the process of returning to a sense of normalcy.

The district’s mitigation plan for next year includes more than 20 changes to Chandler’s current policies and include reduced restrictions on after-school activities and off-campus field trips.

“We are optimistic and it is reflected in this plan for 2021-2022,” said Superintendent Camille Casteel, who will be retiring this summer.

Perhaps the biggest deviation in the district’s new plan is the removal of a mandate that had been requiring all 44,000 of Chandler’s students to wear face masks on campus.

The district says it will support every student’s wish to continue wearing masks and will be encouraging administrators to prevent any mask-related bullying observed between students.    

The mitigation measures are still subject to change as Arizona’s vaccination rates continue to change and new recommendations come down from state and federal agencies.

“There still is no playbook on how to manage a pandemic,” the superintendent added. “We’ve been operating under conflicting, changing messages and varying opinions.”

Students will now be expected to distance themselves from each other by at least three feet rather than six. The sharing of classroom materials will be permissible again, as long hand-washing practices remain in place.

Elementary students will be allowed to return to pre-pandemic protocols and will be allowed to play on their school’s playground before the school day starts.

The district intends on deferring to the Arizona Interscholastic Association for any mitigation rules involving athletic activities.

Assistant Superintendent Craig Gilbert said the district’s plan attempts to ensure every student and employee will feel safe on campus.

“We believe this is the best course of action for moving forward,” Gilbert said.

While an unknown number of CUSD teachers have received the COVID-19 vaccine, the district will not be asking teachers or students to show proof of vaccination in order to return to school in the fall.

“We have had no goals established in regards to vaccination of students,” Gilbert said. “Just like any other vaccinations, it is going to be up to the parents to decide if that’s what they’re going to do.”

That policy, which almost certainly will prevail in other districts, contrasts sharply with many colleges and universities across the country. They are requiring staff and students to be vaccinated.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow said he “expects” students will be vaccinated when they return to campuses in August, but there has been no indication that the state universities will mandate it.

Chandler Unified has reported only about a dozen active COVID-19 cases throughout the district and administrators now rely on county officials to decide when a campus should close due to a sudden outbreak.

CUSD had been using its own data to determine when schools would have to close, but the district has yet to have enough active cases of COVID-19 to warrant a temporary shutdown.

Students who have been in the presence of an infected individual will continue to be quarantined for up to 10 days, but CUSD is contemplating whether it’s still effective to keep students home while the rest of society starts to open up again.

“This is one area that we know school districts are debating,” said Larry Rother, the district’s executive director of educational services.

Students who have been fully vaccinated won’t be required to quarantine after coming into contact with an infected person.

But Rother said school districts across the Valley have been discussing whether quarantine procedures should remain in place or if a better system should be implemented.

During the worst days of the pandemic, CUSD had quarantined up to 2,700 students. And yet only a handful of these students ended up testing positive for the coronavirus.

“It’s kind of hard to use that data to say if they’ve gotten (COVID-19) at school or not,” said Rother, adding it’s been difficult for CUSD to trace how a quarantined student contracted the virus.

Furthermore, quarantined students could now potentially contract the virus at a restaurant, theater, or any other business that had been previously shuttered for most of the pandemic.

The data dashboard CUSD created during the pandemic, which shows how many COVID-19 cases have been reported at each campus, will continue to be updated on a weekly basis.

CUSD additionally plans to continue practicing the cleaning and hand-washing procedures it initiated during the pandemic.

Students who are not comfortable with returning to campus will be encouraged to enroll in the Chandler Online Academy, since CUSD does not plan to provide any other type of virtual learning next year.

Interim Superintendent Frank Narducci said the district’s plan will undoubtedly anger some parents who may feel the mitigation is too strict or too lenient.

But the district intends to be committed to the best practices that can protect students, he said, regardless of the divisions that still exist among families.

“Our community is divided in their ideology, as well as opinion, as to COVID-19 mitigation practices,” Narducci said.