What follows is an edited and more generic archive of what members received over the summer in their email, and often tailored to local association situations.
Dear Fellow Association Members:
During the spring and summer months you have been receiving several updates known as Your Self Care Package update (YSCP) that have provided information from self-care and encouragement, to COVID-19 resources, to the legislative special session, to funding, to negotiations, to elections, etc. We know there was a lot of information sometimes in those emails, especially as we included past updates with each current one, but we wanted you to have vital information. The Next Thing we want to do is move to what is happening as we move into the school year. Of course, school reopening is on everyone’ minds. So, today we start with putting the recent UEA press release regarding school reopening plans into our local context. We hope this that and what we have sent before in the YSCP updates has been helpful.
The Next Thing
August 4, 2020
While the UEA statement last week calls for a delay in returning to in-person learning in areas where COVID-19 cases are increasing, it also expresses an understanding that not all areas are alike. We belong to an Association that at this time sent a bold declaration of supporting the health and safety of educators and students in areas of the state that are impacted by COVID-19. According to the UEA statement, “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.” However, the statement does not preclude schools opening in areas where virus cases are low and where educators and health authorities agree on district reopening plans. “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, ” UEA President Heidi Matthews. So, if a district, after including its educators and consulting with the local health department feels safe moving forward with in-person instruction, then UEA’s statement may not necessarily apply in that situation.
In the latest UEA Action Bulletin sent to members on the 31st Heidi further clarified:
“We recognize there is no one-size-fits-all plan for reopening schools appropriate for the diversity of our 41 local districts. Let me give a couple of positive examples. The Salt Lake City School District Board of Education decided to begin the year with distance learning and re-evaluate timing for a return to in-person instruction based on clear metrics related to the spread of COVID-19. The Logan City School District Board of Education relied on both science and direct input from local educators to create its plan to reopen schools right away. These models represent the type of thinking that must be involved in all school district plans. [UEA] issued our demand for selective delay because many school district plans currently fall short of minimum standards.”
We also belong to a member-driven and governed Association that comes to such decisions through a democratic process. The UEA Board of Directors unanimously voted on the statement by Board members representing each area of the state. All Association members have the opportunity to vote for those who represent them within their association at the local, state and national levels.
Regarding those conditions set forth by the UEA statement, as local Association leaders elected by our members, we feel we have been included in the conversation with the District to reopen schools. Through survey, focus group, community council, etc. during the drafting process and during open feedback on the plan itself once it was published before Board consideration, educators and other stakeholders have been given a chance to weigh in. Some of our suggestions were considered and taken, others were not – many had already been considered and included. Also, the data on case counts is fluid, but as long as the trend is low and the health department concurs, then the process the District has followed has kept the spirit of UEA’s statement.
In that regard, your CEA leadership has asked questions and shared concerns that we heard from our members and that we anticipated that you might have – and we will continue to do so. For example, CEA has been at the table during the reopening discussion –as recently as yesterday—exploring alternatives to returning to a 5-day in-person approach and the merits of even delaying starting for a few days. We also have been insistent that as the District returns to school that mask wearing be enforced (unless there is a medical or special needs accommodation), that our high risk teachers must be assigned only those who can and will wear masks, and that although we all realize that physical distancing at 6+ feet isn’t totally feasible under a full 5-day start, to change the fatalistic rhetoric we are hearing to implementing plans that maximize physical distancing where it is feasible. – 6 feet is preferred, but 4 feet is better than 2, one-way flow is better than en masse, virtual assemblies beat packed auditoriums. CEA has been clear that we expect and will support the enforcement of face coverings and maximal physical distancing protocols.
More of those kinds questions and concerns can now be found on the UEA FAQ page.
For example, here is such one question we have been receiving during the last couple of days--
Q. Must a teacher or school employee quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19?A. The Utah Department of Health COVID-19 School Manual originally called for a “modified quarantine for schools” requiring exposed school employees to continue working if they were unable to find adequate substitutes. However, due to concerns expressed by the UEA, the Utah State Board of Education and the Governor’s office, this guidance was changed to read as follows: “In the event of a confirmed case in a school setting:
A.Students, teachers, and staff who were wearing a mask and were able to physical distance are not considered exposed.
B.Students, teachers, and staff who were not able to physical distance will be considered exposed and will be required to be quarantined.
The CDC recommends that anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 quarantine. Close contact is described as follows:
- You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes (even if masked)
- You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
- You had direct physical contact with the person
- You shared eating or drinking utensils
- They sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you.
We understand the anxiety so many feel about reopening. We feel it too: apprehension, frustration, impatience, ambivalence…all mixed with anticipation. We have expressed all of it as we have met with the District; UEA has expressed it lobbying on your behalf at the state level. Our goal has been to communicate how important the health and well-being of our members (colleagues and friends) and that of their students is to us as we also provide an education and all the other services our students need.
We will continue to communicate as the plan is reviewed, refined and implemented. Please continue to reach out to us so we can share your concerns with the District.
More than a wish, we state this as a goal as we continue in dialogue with the District and with you:
May you have a safe and rewarding new school year.