How Chandler Unified Plans To Mitigate Coronavirus As Schools Reopen

Published: Tuesday, September 8, 2020 - 1:45pm
Updated: Tuesday, September 8, 2020 - 1:49pm
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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: With much of the state now meeting public health benchmarks, school in 10 counties may soon start offering some in-person learning for all students. That includes the two most populous counties, Maricopa and Pima, where the majority of the state's students go to school. But as Arizonans have seen from themselves, COVID-19 can spread quickly. And officials are already on high alert for another spike after the Labor Day weekend. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman is urging caution. In a statement last week, she noted the benchmarks have been met because mitigation tools like social distancing are working. Districts are making plans to reopen in some capacity, though. Chandler Unified School District intends to transition to in-person classes starting Sept. 14. For a look at how they'll do it, I talked to Assistant Superintendent Frank Narducci. I began by asking him whether he feels personally safe having students and staff return to campus.

FRANK NARDUCCI: I have taken the liberty to go out to schools that have been open and that have opened up early. As long as they're running the mitigation strategies that are requested by us to do, I see that the school is operating under the conditions of providing as safe of an environment that they possibly can. We do see that students are adhering to the protocols that are set upon them. We thought that would be a little difficult for our most youngest, but I think our parents have been working with them at home, especially when they have to go out to stores or if they go to any larger box store, they have to utilize those strategies with their younger children. And so we do see that they are coming in with those strategies already under their belt. The other area we look at, too, is the three top mitigation strategies. If we can social distance our students up to 6 feet and we can ensure that face coverings are being worn by all staff and all students. And we really practice the cohorting piece, which is a very important part of the strategy, especially, you know, Marcy Flanagan from the Maricopa County Health had told us those are the top three. And then if we have a strong base of hygiene and sanitization, which is definitely washing our hands, using hand sanitizer when washing is not available — at any time, from classroom outside of classroom, going to restrooms, going to breakfast, back from breakfast, lunch and back, et cetera, as well as working with students on how to cover coughs and sneezes and making sure they're washing their hands right afterwards and then routinely disinfecting high-touch surface areas. You know, we know that that is something that we didn't have to do six, seven months ago. And our schools are ready to do that. And the schools that I've seen, that I have witnessed going out there, are doing that very well. And it's almost a common practice now. And so I see that they have really up the safety, which I think will even go into the common cold season, too.

GOLDSTEIN: Frank, tell me about the data. I understand that Chandler Unified plans to have its own and report its own testing data with kind of a dashboard of sorts. What are the hopes for that? What are the aims?

NARDUCCI: Well, it's just, it's just clear, transparent communication. Making sure that as we have data available to us, we're working directly with the county health and state health departments to make sure that any incident, whether it be isolated, whether it be an incident that comes from outside of the school, is reported. We're also making sure that we're ensuring FERPA protections for either students or for adults as well. And so our dashboard is just to keep individuals in our community aware of the data we're using and looking at our benchmark data that's provided to us from the county. So we're using all of that, and actually all of, all of that is live on our website.

GOLDSTEIN: What happens, what's the plan at this point if a student or a teacher gets the virus, tests positive? What's the process? How many steps at that point do you take to determine which students are quarantined, which classes are still going?

NARDUCCI: The biggest piece that we look at is making sure that we have a positive case. Before people go off in different directions, we have to make sure that that case is positive. Then we have to look at what the close proximity was to that case. Simply put is there, there's that whole 10-minute association with somebody being in close proximity, masked or unmasked for 10 minutes with an individual who may have tested positive. So what we do do is we, if we're not able to provide a name based on FERPA and HIPAA requirements, we will let individuals know that they have been in close contact with somebody who did test positive. What normally happens after that is ... the county health department would connect with us to tell us what the next steps would be, steps such as quarantining all the way down to closing down partial facilities, closing down a school possibly. So it all depends on what the rate of the spread is, what the community spread is, or if it's an isolated factor that happened from outside the organization. All those things would have to come into consideration. But the biggest thing would be to ensure that the individual who has tested positive is quarantined for the required timeline, and then whatever symptoms they're showing, that they're symptom free prior to reengaging.

GOLDSTEIN: Are you excited? Are you also a little bit nervous? Can you describe how you're feeling about all this right now?

NARDUCCI: That's a great question. Both. There's not a day that goes by that we don't think about our students and their safety and our community and their safety and our staff and their safety as well. I am both excited and also anticipate a lot of trepidation by individuals until they see plans in place, until their students see what's happening. And Chandler Unified, our teachers are sending videos home in their virtual instruction right now with their students. And our principals are taking videos and sending those home as well, so that students and our parents and our staff feel comfortable that everything has been communicated as to how students are coming back. We have to understand that no situation we predict 100% with certainty that anything is going to take place. And schools are no exception to that. So we will just do our best. And we are going to work very strong at our mitigation strategies.

GOLDSTEIN: That is Frank Narducci, he's assistant superintendent for elementary education for the Chandler Unified School District. Frank, thanks for the chat this morning and good luck. Stay safe.

NARDUCCI: Thank you. You too. Stay safe.

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