Educators across Utah are ready to get back to teaching this fall, but they are concerned current plans presented by school districts do not provide adequate health safeguards, according to the Utah Education Association.
The following can be attributed to UEA President Heidi Matthews:
“I’m hearing from teachers all around the state who are fearful their school district plans don’t go far enough to protect them and their students. Some plans go into great detail about student health and safety but fall short in adequately addressing protections for school employees.
“We urge each school district to seek educator input in their 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. It’s also critical all decisions to reopen schools be based in scientific evidence and advice.
“We must acknowledge the pandemic was not experienced equally by all communities and populations, particularly in rural areas and communities of color. School district reopening plans must deliver equal learning opportunities. Policymakers must allocate funding and resources to help close opportunity gaps that were exacerbated by the disparate impacts of school closures.
“Students and educators will continue to face health and safety inequities in schools if they are not provided with proper personal protective equipment and disinfectants. Utah schools, which are already underfunded, should not be faced with the decision of how to pay for this equipment.
“It’s important for us to get back to in-person learning, but we must make the transition in a way that does not unnecessarily endanger the health of our students and school staff. If we don’t prioritize the health and safety of school staff and properly accommodate high risk employees, we fear schools may not remain open long. The other thing we can all do is follow recommended COVID-19 prevention guidelines now to help make schools safer this fall.
“The research is clear – students learn best when they have face-to-face personal interaction with a highly qualified teacher in a well-resourced classroom. In addition, public schools are where our students have access to the physical, mental and nutrition services many of our most vulnerable students need. We must be careful and calculated in returning to this most optimal educational setting so we can provide the education our students deserve.”
The UEA supports 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.