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Addressing COVID-19 in our schools…charting the best course - Message from UEA President Heidi Matthews

11/13/2020

By UEA President Heidi Matthews

How I admire our Utah educators. Your devotion to your students, to your craft and to the great institution that is universal public education, no matter the situation, continually amazes me. Thank you for all you do!

Not in our lifetimes has anyone faced this before. Rapid spread of COVID-19 in our community is impacting far too many schools. Restrictions, quarantines and changing teaching modalities are hampering our ability to teach effectively.

As you know, the UEA exists to support ALL our educator members. Typically, the task of defending educators is relatively straight forward. But in the current environment, I’ve watched as your elected UEA leaders agonize over how best to advocate for you. The jobs of educators, it seems, have never been more complicated. And the feelings of UEA members on how best to address the situation run the gamut.

Consider this sampling of recent emails received by the UEA:

  • From a member in Wasatch…“I do not believe that we should be out of school…It should be left up to the individual Districts to make decisions based on their teachers and constituents in their area, not the Governor making a mandate that applies to all districts in high-risk areas.
  • From a member in Jordan…“Thank you for your message to the governor of Utah! Please continue to push for high schools to go online. I’m teaching fourth grade and really believe we can continue in person…The younger kids NEED to be in school.
  • From a member in Granite…“I know the UEA is encouraging the governor to close schools, but as a member of UEA, I am begging that we keep schools open. After two weeks of dismissal…my students are floundering.
  • From a member in Alpine…“We are ready to strike or do a sick out. This is untenable -- my anxiety is through the roof.
  • From a member in San Juan…“I do not want to revert back to online education from Thanksgiving to New Years. We need to keep students in schools. Until there is evidence to indicate widespread COVID in schools there is no reason to take students out.
  • From a member in Nebo…“I am a face-to-face teacher and struggle with online teaching. I want to stay in my classroom teaching but I respect the desire of those who are having a difficult time doing both face to face and on line teaching. I recommend that UEA push for districts to allow teachers to do either face to face or online but not both.
  • From a member in Morgan…“I read the article in the paper about the request to have secondary schools go online. I would like to request that the UEA push to leave that decision to the local school board. All districts are not the same and should not be treated that way. Remember that we are different and should not be treated the same…I have zero interest in going online.
  • From a member in Millard…“Online school is not the way to go and has shown to be much less effective than in person teaching. Above all, these kids are suffering from depression, mental issues and suicidal thoughts when not being able to interact with the kids. I also feel like extracurricular activities are essential for the wellbeing of our kids.
  • From a member in Granite…“I’m a single mom who has had no choice but to keep my son in daycare full time, despite the risks, despite my discomfort with it. I have sick students coming to school…The spread is due to schools opening, and we need to close them down. Too many lives are at risk.
  • From a member in Emery…“I teach at a high school within a high transmission area and I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT want to go online. Furthermore, I am considered high risk, having had a kidney transplant, and I still don't want to teach from home. We tried that. It isn't good for kids; it isn't good for teachers.
  • And finally, from a teacher in Wasatch…“Thank you for supporting teachers. I feel that all the talk around COVID rarely considers the pressures teachers are feeling every day. I appreciate the voice of UEA!

Again, this is just a sampling. There are dozens more…each filled with the passion I’ve come to expect from educators dedicated to their students and their profession.

Utah educators belong to the UEA because we advocate for you. But with such conflicting feelings among our members, how do we best do that? What is deemed not enough for one member is too much for another.

Despite the differences, there are many things on which we can all agree:

  • Students learn best face to face with a quality teacher in a well-resourced classroom. We must strive for this ideal.
  • Educators must feel safe in their classrooms and have a healthy working environment.
  • Educators deserve working conditions that allow time to interact with students and effectively do their jobs within their contracted hours.

The UEA is all of us. We belong to a member-driven and member-governed association that comes to decisions based on principles, through a democratic process. You have elected teacher representatives as organization leaders at the local, state and national level. These leaders, along with support staff, strive to support members as professionals so you in turn can be the best possible educator for your students.

As always, your input into the UEA decision-making process is critical. You’ll have yet another opportunity to help chart the course of your association by completing a survey that will be emailed to all UEA members next week. Please take this opportunity to let your voice be heard.

Our strength is in our numbers. The UEA is at its most effective in advocating for you when our members are united. We all want the same things. Just because we may disagree on methods, does not mean we cannot come together to achieve common outcomes of driving down the virus, getting back to face-to-face learning and experiencing manageable workloads.

As we work through this trying time, we understand frustration levels are high. We all want this pandemic to be over and get back to the ideal in our classrooms, with our families and in our lives. We ask for a measure of empathy for your fellow educators, your local leaders (who are also full-time teachers) and your state leaders and staff. We all are experiencing unprecedented pressure.

Through it all, your UEA will continue to protect your rights, to advance the cause of public education, to strengthen the teaching profession and to promote the quality schools our students deserve.

Amidst the uncertainty, two things are certain…we are all in this together and together we are stronger. Please join us as we navigate these trying times…together.

Thank you for your continued membership in the Utah Education Association and in your local association. And thank you again for being a devoted Utah educator!

Sincerely,

Heidi Matthews
President, Utah Education Association

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