Chandler School District Flip-Flops, Decides to Extend Strike to Monday

#RedForEd making history.
#RedForEd making history. Zee Peralta
In a reversal, the Chandler Unified School District said that schools will remain closed on Monday. The announcement came less than a day after CUSD told parents that schools would reopen after the weekend.

Chandler schools were closed on Thursday and Friday. For a few hours on Thursday afternoon, it looked like administrators at this large East Valley school district would be the first in the Phoenix metro area to definitively say they would push through the teachers' strike to reopen schools by Monday.

However, when CUSD announced that schools would reopen, it set off a heated discussion on the Facebook discussion group for grassroots #RedForEd organizers. On one of the Arizona Educators United Facebook groups, Chandler teachers expressed confusion and anger about the decision.

CUSD based the decision on a staff survey that #RedForEd teachers said was hard to follow. Others said that they were never polled. A few teachers suggested protesting outside of the district office or calling the administration.

By late Thursday night, CUSD Superintendent Camille Casteel had flip-flopped. In an email to staff, she wrote, “As I stated in my earlier email, ‘this situation is fluid.’ Based on the number of teachers who are reporting their absence, on Monday, our schools will need to remain closed.”

“Many of you will feel this is the right decision and an equal number that it is wrong. For that I apologize,” Casteel added.

click to enlarge ANTONIA FARZAN
Antonia Farzan
CUSD educator Alex Wood, a French teacher, wrote in a Facebook message to Phoenix New Times that enough teachers called CUSD between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning to tell the administration that they wouldn’t be at school on Monday.

Wood wrote, “Dr. Casteel is getting a lot of heat right now and she is highly respected by CUSD teachers and staff, but this [unprecedented] situation has all of us scrambling to do the right thing, including Dr. Casteel.”

Teachers on the AEU Facebook group were excited. “Nice job CUSD teachers for calling in and our supporters for contacting the necessary people!!” one group member wrote.

Chandler made the announcement on the district website around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, shortly after a massive rally of around 50,000 educators wrapped up at the Capitol in the 90-degree heat.

Around 20 school districts in the Phoenix metro area pre-emptively closed campuses on Thursday and Friday, but some have left plans for Monday up in the air.

The Chandler administration reported that 75 percent of certified teachers and support staff said that they would return to work on Monday in a poll. CUSD communications specialist Kimberly Guevara said that the teacher's union and the grassroots #RedForEd group Arizona Educators United conducted the poll.

Over 3,500 Chandler employees took the survey, according to Guevara. Sixty-eight percent of certified teachers voted yes, and 86.1 percent of support staff voted yes.

CUSD's total student population is approximately 45,000 students, and Superintendent Camille Casteel has supported past school funding proposals from Governor Doug Ducey.

But Ducey's pay raise plan has stalled in the Legislature. Lawmakers adjourned for the weekend on Thursday in spite of thousands of educators demanding that they act during a rally on the Capitol grounds that drew around tens of thousands of people in red.

Phoenix Union High School District has not said whether they will be open or closed on Monday. Mesa Public Schools has said the large district in the East Valley "will remain closed until the walkout ends."

#RedForEd organizers will rally at the Capitol again on Friday morning beginning at 9 a.m.
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty