Chandler Education Association president: 'It's incredibly frustrating to feel almost expendable'

Some Chandler teachers are wary of returning to brick-and-mortar buildings, according to Chandler Education Association President Katie Nash. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Some Chandler teachers are wary of returning to brick-and-mortar buildings, according to Chandler Education Association President Katie Nash. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Some Chandler teachers are wary of returning to brick-and-mortar buildings, according to Chandler Education Association President Katie Nash. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Katie Nash is a mother and a daughter, and both roles create worry for her in this moment: Her daughter is at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus due to underlying health conditions, and Nash's parents live with her. Nash is also a biology teacher at Chandler High School and the president of the Chandler Education Association, and as schools face uncertainties surrounding reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, many educators, including Nash, are concerned about what heading back to brick-and-mortar classrooms will look like.

"Personally, I know I am pretty scared," Nash said of returning to her own classroom.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced earlier this month that the start of in-person classes for Arizona schools would not be until Aug. 17—a date he called "aspirational." Since then, Chandler USD has made the decision to begin online Aug. 5, either via Chandler Online Academy or through Google Classroom if a parent selected the option that would have their student in a brick-and-mortar classroom as soon as possible.

President Donald Trump entered the discussion of reopening schools earlier this month when he tweeted that schools must reopen; he later threatened to pull federal funding to schools that did not open. Groups pushing for reopening, including the White House, have said that children are at a lower risk of contracting the virus, which they argue makes schools a safe space.

But state and national discussions of reopening classrooms have left out a very important group of people, Nash said: the adults that would be on campus—the teachers, custodians, nurses, administration staff, security guards and more that make a school function.


"It's incredibly frustrating to feel almost expendable," Nash said. "It feels like [Trump isn't] putting people over profits."

The Chandler Education Association collected feedback from its members between June 20-23, and with 524 responses, data from the survey showed that a majority of staff do not feel safe returning to school. Not all expressed the same sentiment in June, however, as 23.7% of teachers said they were ready to return to classrooms.

In one comment left by an educator and shared in the survey results, a teacher wrote: "At this point, I am more worried about my mental health if we don’t return to work. I NEED to go back! Students NEED to go back!”

Nash said that some advocates of returning to brick-and-mortar classrooms right away have said being at home for this extended period of time—Chandler USD students have been home since spring break in March—is negatively impacting kids' mental health.

"I don't think it's for the kids' mental health; I think [the push for reopening] is so parents can get back to work and to continue like nothing is wrong," Nash said. "But we can't be asking teachers to make those sacrifices. I have a colleague in the ICU. He was doing a decent job of social distancing, and he is still in the ICU. That, I think, should be a wake-up call. Teachers are getting sick, and they don't even have kids in classrooms yet. What are we going to do when there are kids in the classroom?"

Nash continued: "If people were worried about kids' mental health, they would worry about the long-term impacts that are possible. They miss their friends now, but they'll really miss their friend when their friend is out sick or if their friend dies—or if their teacher dies. I don't think kids will be able to learn much if that happens."

Chandler High School's Kerry Croswhite, who coaches and teaches history at the school, is in the ICU with COVID-19. On July 17, the Chandler High school community came together in a socially distanced way for a tribute. They rallied around Croswhite with notes, signs and posters of support. At 8 p.m. the crowd that gathered honked their horns to begin a one-minute moment of silence to send strength to Croswhite and his family.

Nash said the situation that presents the lowest risk for students, families and educators is to continue to stay home.

"That's what we've been advocating for, and it doesn't look like there is a safe way for everyone to return to 'normal,'" Nash said.

Nash said she hopes that Ducey and district officials use state coronavirus data to formulate a plan for when reopening is safe, such as the gating criteria that allowed governors to reopen businesses after stay-at-home orders expired.

In the meantime, Nash said many teachers have been busy at work training and taking classes to become better online educators. Nash said she hopes families understand that the distance learning that took place in the fourth quarter of the last school year and the distance learning options proposed for this school year will look completely different.

"It's totally revamped," Nash said. "There will be human interaction either live or via recordings of the teacher. ... We are missing our kids as well. We didn't sign up to teach behind a screen. Teachers love the interactions we have with our students."

Ducey is expected to speak this week about further plans for reopening schools.


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