The Chandler USD board voted Jan. 4 to return to virtual learning for elementary, junior high and high school students beginning Jan. 6 through Jan. 18. Students were scheduled to return in person Jan. 5. That day will now be a teacher work day.

Under this plan, students would return to in-person classes Jan. 19, but the board will revisit the topic at its meeting later this month as more data becomes available.

"If we truly are looking at trying to mitigate our community, I don't believe keeping kids at home is going to achieve that goal," Board President Barb Mozdzen said. "I believe that kids are safer in the schools where they are in a controlled environment."

Superintendent Camille Casteel said the district would be communicating the governing board's plan to families on the evening of Jan. 4 via email.

The board's decision came on the heels of a car parade led by teachers and parents advocating for a return to virtual learning following a continued increase in the number of COVID-19 cases reported. The Arizona Department of Health Services' recommendation for Maricopa County schools is to return to virtual learning with the metrics measuring "substantial transmission" of the coronavirus.

"I understand our staff members are scared. That is something that is real, but I also feel as though when we start looking at our kids, those students that don't have the means, the socioeconomic status, who don't have the ability to have a decent learning environment from home—I think that is a big problem," Mozdzen said.

The governing board also addressed school staff during the virtual learning period and made it clear that people in those positions will be given "meaningful work" so they can continue with their employment.

The board also amended the percent positive thresholds the district is using to determine whether or not a school site will temporarily close due to COVID-19. The metrics were lowered from their previous thresholds based on recommendations from district staff. The board will revisit the percent positive thresholds at a meeting in February.

"I really hope that our community takes this seriously, but in six weeks or four weeks we might be in the same place," board member Lindsay Love said. "If we want school to be open, if we want X, Y and Z to be open, then we have to do some hard work."