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PRESS RELEASE: UEA calls for delay in return to school buildings

7/28/2020

Rush to open amid rising virus rates put students, educators and families at risk

In a continued effort to advocate for the safety and wellbeing of students, educators and communities across Utah, the Utah Education Association calls on the governor, the State Board of Education and local school districts in impacted areas to delay public K-12 school reopening plans and instead temporarily resume distance learning to begin the 2020-21 school year. Schools should remain closed to in-person learning until COVID-19 cases decline and school districts have reopening plans created with input from educators and carefully reviewed and approved by local health authorities.

The following can be attributed to UEA President Heidi Matthews:

“Up until now, Utah has faced a choice between two bad options -- either return to in-person learning and put our students, educators and communities at risk or temporarily return to a distance learning and virtual instruction model. Given the state’s rising number of positive coronavirus cases, this is no longer a choice. We simply cannot unnecessarily risk lives by opening schools too soon.

“We know that in-person teaching and learning is best for both students and educators, and educators want nothing more than to get back into schools with our students. The reality is that, with few exceptions, we are nowhere near containing the spread of this virus. Current school district plans, no matter how robust, simply cannot sufficiently ensure the health and safety of our students, educators and families in communities where the virus continues to spread unchecked.

“Now is the time for our leaders to lead…

“We call on local school boards to lead by seeking educator input in creating back-to-school plans. Educators have extensive expertise in teaching and supporting students and they must be front and center by fully participating in decision-making and implementation. These plans must also address employee rights and working conditions.

“We call on the State Board of Education to lead by continuing efforts to ensure equity. We recognize the pandemic is not experienced equally by all communities and populations, particularly in rural areas and communities of color. The board must require school district reopening plans that deliver equal learning opportunities.

“We call on the Utah legislature to lead with the additional resources required to open schools safely and to bridge the socio-economic digital divide. Students and educators will face health and safety concerns in schools if they are not provided with proper personal protective equipment, disinfectants, training and other safety measures. Students without access to digital resources, proper supervision and nutrition will fall behind in a remote learning environment. Utah schools, which are already underfunded, should not be faced with the decision of how to pay for these essentials.

“Finally, we call on Gov. Gary Herbert to lead with science and safety and declare that schools in impacted areas will open remotely this fall. We call on him to declare that local school districts should NOT return to in-person learning until COVID-19 cases decline and they have robust reopening plans created with input from educators and carefully reviewed and approved by local health authorities.”

The UEA continues to support the following guiding principles in planning for a return to in-person learning:
  • Principle 1 – Health Expertise. All decisions to reopen schools must be based in scientific evidence and advice.
  • Principle 2 – Educator Voice. Educators must be front and center by fully participating in decision-making and implementation.
  • Principle 3 – Access to Protection and Training. Students and educators must have access to proper personal protective equipment and training on appropriate hygiene practices and protocols before returning to school. Utah schools, which are already underfunded, should not be faced with the decision of how to pay for this equipment and training.
  • Principle 4 – Leading with Equity. The pandemic was not experienced equally by all communities and populations, particularly in rural areas and communities of color. Funding and resources must be allocated to help close opportunity gaps exacerbated by the disparate impacts of school closures.
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