Arizona School Board Cancels Prom for COVID, But Throws Party for Superintendent


I’ve never heard of Camille Casteel, but if the priorities of the Chandler Unified School District in Chandler, Arizona, are in the right place, there ought to be a movie about her.

We’re talking “Stand and Deliver” territory — or maybe even “Dead Poets Society,” if Robin Williams’ character weren’t so insufferable. Hollywood should be lining up to bid on her story. After all, this is a superintendent whose retirement party is so important that it trumps both prom and graduation in terms of significance.

Or maybe it’s not that important and the Chandler Unified School District are a bunch of hypocrites.

I’m going to bet on the latter, given that some parents are having an anaphylactic reaction to the fact Casteel is being given a full-on retirement party with limited constraints while prom has been eliminated and graduation is subject to considerable restrictions, all in the name of limiting COVID.

The party was first reported on by The Daily Wire on Friday after a parent brought Casteel’s shindig to the conservative website’s attention. The initial RSVP said each guest could invite as many as 10 others to the event people to the send-off; guests would be bused to the party using shuttles.

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According to The Daily Wire, district spokesman Terry Locke later clarified that, mirabile dictu, the initial RSVP was in error. Guests could only invite four other people … who would then be bused to the party. See, totally better.

According to the invitation on the school district’s website, the event is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Chandler High School’s Austin Field. The shuttle buses will run from the school’s parking lots to the field.

Masks, Locke said, will be required and social distancing “encouraged” at the outdoor event. However, it’s still worth noting the party originally had less stringent COVID precautions than graduation, which only allowed two guests per student — meaning for most students, this meant inviting parents only.

Now, the number of guests a student can invite has been increased to four, which magically happens to be the same number of other guests invitees to Casteel’s retirement party can bring along. It’s almost like these COVID restrictions are perfectly arbitrary.

Is this school board being hypocritical?

There won’t be any party buses for graduation, alas, and prom is still 86ed.

Sarcasm aside, this isn’t to take anything away from Casteel — whose tenure hasn’t been undistinguished, if not quite Jaime Escalante territory. According to The Arizona Republic, when Casteel announced her retirement in November, she’d been with the district for 50 years, 25 of them as a superintendent.

Rather, it’s the fact that she’s going out with a dumpster conflagration of poor messaging and duplicity all wrapped up in a neat package of a wholly unnecessary retirement function. Bon voyage!

The school district, parents said, shouldn’t be putting Casteel ahead of their families’ end-of-high-school memories.

“We parents’ frustration isn’t that our School Board is holding the events for Dr. Casteel’s retirement, but rather the glaring double standard of the Board not being willing to also approve virtually the exact same logistics for our students’ Proms and Graduation ceremonies, using the excuse of ‘COVID risks,’” Jennifer Alvey, a parent of five in the Chandler Unified School District, told The Daily Wire.

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“Although we’re happy to see additional guests being able to attend with their students during one of the biggest celebrations in their lives, we find the hypocrisy to be staggering.”

Another parent said she was considering pulling her child out of the district due, in part, to the decision.

“I have done everything to continue to stay in CUSD, including paying someone every day to drive my daughter to and from school over the past years because CUSD was where we needed to be. No other district could compare,” Amy Jascourt said.

“The board members are not voting what is best for our children … CUSD used to be the leader, the one district everyone looked up to. Now, you are the district no one wants to be part of.”

In addition to the party, The Daily Wire noted, the school district came under scrutiny in 2019 after it implemented a critical race theory-tastic program called Deep Equity.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson noted at the time that in Deep Equity, “teachers are instructed on different types of ‘white identity orientations’ … many white people, teachers are told, according to Deep Equity, are defined by their ‘ignorance and supremacy.’ Other white people, ‘question the systemic issues that have caused whites to be so much in a superior position.'”

In an appearance on “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Sunday, Alvey said that she was tired of the “double standard.”

“Parents felt like the district just took a page out of the Marie Antoinette playbook there and said, ‘Let the seniors eat cake,’” she said.

She noted the original two-invitees-per-student rule at graduation, “which means most kids can’t even include their immediate family in their graduation ceremony, one of the big events of their life. No prom. But we’re also OK with going ahead and having a reception with food, buses, transporting guests in [with] everyone in close quarters on those buses, to celebrate our retiring superintendent.

“Which, we think is great. We would want to celebrate our graduating, er, our retiring superintendent,” she continued. “But we also as parents don’t understand the double standard, why the district has certain things that are OK for the adults in the district and then the kids’ interests in the district are getting entirely overlooked for the seniors.”

Check out the interview here:

She added that “as we have gone, especially through the last year and looked at a lot of the decision-making that’s come down, none of it has been with reference to what is best for the kids, for their growth, for their development, for their emotional, physical well-being.”

“It has very much been an entirely different conversation than anything you would expect from an industry that’s in charge of educating and supporting our children into adulthood,” she said.

There’s no reason for this. To the extent the students in the district might be seen as less responsible and less apt to socially distance, they’re also less prone to complications from COVID-19. Indeed, if you want to save at-risk groups from being infected with the coronavirus, the sensible thing would be to cancel Casteel’s retirement party and let graduation and prom go on with limited restrictions.

The great irony is that, in the Arizona Republic article announcing her retirement, Casteel was quoted as saying, “we need to do a lot of healing and rebuilding of relationships internally and externally because the pandemic hasn’t brought out the best in all of us.”

It hasn’t, and that clearly includes her school district.

You don’t have to be a Hollywood-ready educator to get a going-away party. If, however, a school board puts these kind of COVID-related strictures on its students but takes a different tack entirely when it comes to a retirement function that pales in comparison to milestone-markers for seniors, the district deserves every bit of bad publicity that comes its way.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture