Chandler District's School Board Votes Not To Require Masks In Schools
The Chandler Unified School District’s governing board voted Thursday to not change it’s COVID-19 mitigation plan. This means the East Valley district will not follow the at least two dozen districts that are requiring masks before a new state law banning such policies goes into effect in late September.
Personal choice was one factor that went into the board’s 3-2 vote in favor of keeping the district’s mitigation plan as is. But another factor was the possibility of missing out on about $11 million in grants that Gov. Doug Ducey has threatened to withhold from some districts and charters that impose mask mandates under a new grant program that was announced this week.
Districts and charters with mask requirements argue they are not breaking any laws, because the new state law hasn't taken effect yet, but the district's Chief Financial Officer Lana Berry said it's up to Ducey's discretion to decide who qualifies for his program, which is being funded by federal COVID-19 relief dollars, and who doesn't. Berry also told the board the district could get an additional $40 million under another grant program that has yet to be announced, but would likely set similar conditions for applicants.
Joel Wirth is one of the board members who voted in favor of maintaining the district's current mitigation, but said the issue could be revisited if the board saw a need. If the board had supported requiring masks, Wirth suggested an opt-out provision.
“Considering we are looking at a thirty day period, I don’t think it’s worth losing $50-60 million dollars in funding that we can use to sanitize the facility and provide staff," Wirth said.
This means the district continues to strongly recommend students and staff wear masks, but of course this is optional.
In a recent district survey, 58% of staff who responded said they were in favor of a temporary mask mandate; 42% were opposed.
The Chandler Education Association was disheartened by the board's vote, it said in a statement.
"This is the second time the staff have been surveyed, and their feedback is disregarded in decision making by the governing board," it said in the statement. "Last fall, over 60% of staff wanted to remain virtual through quarter one. Instead, the governing board decided to phase in students for in-person instruction."
The Chandler district has about 49,000 students and staff.