A UEA Message to Elementary School Teachers and a Call for Unity for ALL Educators (emailed to all UEA members)
Dear UEA Members,
On Friday, Nov. 6, the UEA issued a statement calling on the governor and local school boards to require all public secondary schools in communities of high COVID transmission to adopt at-home instruction and to suspend all extracurricular activities that cannot be conducted under social distancing guidelines. We are asking this change take place, at a minimum, through Winter Break or until such time as COVID-19 cases in those areas significantly decline.
We take this action to protect our members’ health and working conditions amid unrestrained community COVID-19 spread. While health officials continue to insist the spread in schools is minimal, the juggling of multiple and continually changing teaching modalities, combined with the stress of a school environment that puts personal and family health at risk, has created an untenable situation for ALL Utah educators in areas hard hit by the pandemic.
SUPPORTING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EDUCATORS--
We recognize the same critical concerns about health, safety and workload that affect our secondary teachers are seriously impacting many elementary school members. In a message to the media on Nov. 9, UEA President Heidi Matthews specifically called on “the governor and school boards to work with elementary schools to find workable solutions to support the health and safety of educators.”
The UEA and local associations are pursuing this work to support our elementary school educators. Some ideas currently implemented and under consideration include:
• Enforce mask-wearing requirements in all areas of the school.
• Use temporarily closed secondary school buildings to increase social distancing for elementary classrooms.
• Work with state childcare providers to find ways to move to at-home learning while securing a safe environment for the young children of working parents.
• Reduce teacher workload by creating separate district in-person and remote learning divisions, providing additional paid preparation time or other methods.
• Provide convenient and free COVID testing for all educators who want it (UEA is currently working with the governor’s office on this one).
Our focus on secondary schools in the most recent request is in no way reflective of the serious concerns facing our elementary school educators. It simply reflects the more complicated nature of the situation for younger students.
The repeated shift back and forth from in-person to at-home learning due to outbreaks and quarantines has thus far been primarily experienced by secondary schools. In addition, secondary teachers are potentially exposed to many more students per day and face higher risks. Based on an analysis of school data from five large Utah school districts, positive COVID cases in secondary schools are nearly three times that of elementary schools.
The secondary focus is also based on science. According to the World Health Organization (WHO): children are less likely to pass on the virus to others than adolescents and adults; disruption to instructional time affects a young child’s ability to learn; and the longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. The WHO concludes that “more caution is necessary regarding secondary/high schools and older students compared to primary/elementary schools.”
FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT SUPPORT THE MOVE TO AT-HOME LEARNING –
“We are different; we always have been and always will be. However, different shouldn't divide us, but unify us because different is an asset.”
We recognize there are many members who disagree with our call to temporarily move some schools to at-home learning. Let’s be clear, our request is only for areas of high COVID transmission. We are NOT asking to close schools statewide.
We continue to stress and firmly believe that students learn best face-to-face with a qualified teacher in a well-resourced classroom. Our goal is to work toward this ideal, however, continuing in-person learning in ALL our schools amid record COVID-19 infection rates poses an unnecessary risk to our students and our educators and may well further delay a safe return to “normal” for our entire state.
As a statewide organization of educators, we have a responsibility to protect the rights and working conditions of our members. If you are among those who feel comfortable with the current in-person situation at your school, we support you. We also ask you to please consider the fear, anxiety and stress of your fellow UEA members in different situations. Here are a few of the many comments we have received:
• “In order to protect my at-risk family members from infection, I have moved out of my home and I am now living in an RV…I am seriously struggling to keep up with the demands of simultaneous in-person and distance learning.”
• “I have been unable to meet the current demands of teaching six different courses live and creating comparable digital content for the distance learners to access.”
• “In my district most teachers are being compelled to teach full-time in the classroom and create and maintain an online classroom for distance learners. Two full time jobs with the same pay and contract hours as one.”
• “I do not feel safe in my building. I'm not sure what else I can do. I am cautious at home and at school, however I am concerned for my health due to work.”
• “I am so very happy to be back with my students, but they deserve my best and at times it feels as if we've been set up for failure. My students and I need more funding and more time.”
Our association is strongest when we are united. Educators want nothing more than to be in classrooms with our students as soon as safely possible. Please join us as we stand together to support one another, to advance the cause of public education, to strengthen the teaching profession and to promote the quality schools our students deserve.