Most Recent Information—
UEA creates COVID-19 School Issue Reporting Form to identify and track concerns – August 26, 2020
Plans created by school districts to address the Coronavirus pandemic vary widely. Many teachers are comfortable with their school district’s reopening plans. Many others have grave concerns…some for health reasons, others about unreasonable workload demands and still others about their personal rights and benefits should they or someone else in the school become ill with COVID-19.
UEA members, we need your help! You are the eyes and ears. Now that schools are back in session, we need data in order to properly address deficiencies with state and local officials, including local school boards, the State Board of Education, the legislature and the governor. Help us identify and address the issues and locations where concerns remain.
UEA president addresses Legislature on safe return to school – August 19, 2020
UEA President Heidi Matthews presented to the legislative Education Interim Committee August 19 to address school reopening concerns during Covid-19. She presented UEA’s 5 Key Requirements for a Safe Return to In-Person Learning, highlighting significant gaps that exist in state requirements for district back to school plans and noting the concerns of many teachers about the lack of accountability and oversight for the implementation of safety plans.
Specifically, she asked the state to address three essential steps:
- Standards for health and safety (addresses UEA Requirement #1)
- State Department of Health must set health standards based on medical science and public health data for the conditions in which schools can safely open for in-person learning
- State or Local Department of Health must ensure LEA reopening plans meet health and safety requirements.
- Increase state funding for employee costs related to Covid-19 (addresses UEA Requirement #3)
- LEAs provide additional paid sick leave so employees do not report to work when they are symptomatic or have been exposed to Covid-19
- Guarantee LEA health insurance plan, many of which are high deductible, cover out of pocket costs for medical expenses related to Covid-19 treatment
- Reimburse educators for documented out of pocket expenses related to technology to provide online instruction (e.g., purchasing a camera for home computer)
- Enforcement and compliance (addresses UEA Requirement #5)
- Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division set Covid-19 workplace safety standards.
- Require LEAs to create a process for receiving and reviewing complaints from students, staff and parents when the school safety plan is not enforced and ensure no one is retaliated against for doing do.
- Local Department of Health ensures workplace safety and compliance through regular school inspections.
With few exceptions, Utah school district reopening plans vary little – August 14, 2020
Utah school districts were required to have reopening plans approved by their local school boards by August 1. Salt Lake School District announced it would begin the year with remote learning only. Most districts are planning a return to in-person learning, but with modifications. All local school districts are providing some type of remote learning option for students.
Concerning elements of School COVID-19 Guidance revised with UEA urging – August 3, 2020
On July 30, the Utah Health Department released COVID-19 School Guidance (pdf). The document caused angst among educators by recommending ‘modified quarantine guidelines’ (pg. 41) that simultaneously required quarantine for anyone exposed to COVID-19 but made exception for teachers or school employees for whom the school is unable to secure a suitable substitute.
Following pressure from the UEA, the Utah State Board of Education and the Governor's Office, the Utah Department of Health revised the guidelines. The 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."
"While we appreciate the health and science expertise involved in creating the guidance, it’s clear the manual received little or no input from professional public school educators," said UEA President Heidi Matthews. "Many of the guidelines run from impractical to impossible in a K-12 school setting. We appreciate the State Health Department revising these guidelines with input from public school educators."
UEA announces five key requirements for a safe return to in-person learning – July 31, 2020
The UEA is demanding that each school district reopening plan meet a minimum standard in the areas of health and safety, employee rights, continuous learning and consistent policy enforcement before returning to in-person learning. The five minimum standards are:
- The Covid-19 pandemic must be under control locally.
- Specific protections must be in place to keep the virus under control and protect students and staff.
- Plans must be in place to protect school employee rights.
- Plans must be in place to ensure continuous learning for all students.
- Clear policies must be established for how these measures will be enforced consistently.
- View the complete UEA Five Key Requirements for a Safe Return to In-person Learning
PRESS RELEASE: UEA calls for delay in return to school buildings – July 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 UEA called 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.
“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,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “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.”
Back-to-school Forum for UEA Members – July 28, 2020
The UEA held an online forum July 28 to address educator concerns. In this forum, the UEA addressed the challenges facing educators, resources available and strategies for moving forward.
UEA supports local efforts to influence school district reopening plans, keep students and employees safe – July 17, 2020
School districts are releasing individual reopening plans as required by the state. Some plans, particularly those developed in collaboration with educators, are earning acceptance in the way they protect student and teacher health. Others fall woefully short.
“We risk further disrupting learning and traumatizing students if schools are forced to close because we opened too soon,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “Students learn best when they have face-to-face personal interaction with a highly qualified teacher in a well-resourced classroom, but we must make the transition in a way that does not unnecessarily endanger the health of our students and school staff and that gives us the best opportunity to remain open.
“In addition to continuing to work with the state school board, legislators and the governor, the UEA is currently providing local leaders with information to influence school district plans in a way that protects educators and students. In school districts where our local association determines the district plan is not sufficient, the UEA stands ready to support them in whatever actions they deem necessary.”
In a press release dated July 8 the UEA encouraged school districts to include educators in creating their reopening 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,” said Matthews in the statement.
As statewide guidelines were being developed, the UEA pressured safety measures and funding for school reopening plans, first with the legislature, then with State Board of Education and the Governor.
Flowchart and FAQ assist members in understanding back-to-school educator rights – July 17, 2020
As 41 local school districts begin to roll out school opening plans for the 2020-2021 year and the COVID-19 pandemic continues with some counties considered hot spots and other counties having less than 100 total COVID-19 positive cases, UEA members need to know their rights and job protections. The UEA has developed a flowchart and provided answers to frequently asked questions to “assist members in getting assistance and advocacy to make decisions about returning to work,” according to UEA General Counsel Tracey Watson.
The FAQ provides general, employee-specific and working conditions answers about reopening schools. The flowchart outlines what to do about personal concerns such as “I have an underlying health condition that puts me at greater risk for infection, serious illness, or death if I contract COVID-19,” or “Someone in my household has a health condition that puts them at greater risk for infection or serious illness/death if they contract COVID-19.” It also addresses workplace issues such as concerns about lack of social distancing, lack of masks or inadequate hygiene procedures.
UEA in the news – July 9, 2020
Following are just a few recent local news stories mentioning UEA President Heidi Matthews over the past 24 hours in her determined efforts to promote a safe return to schools for students and educators this fall:
UEA supports governor’s call for mask requirement in schools – July 9, 2020
The Utah Education Association applauds the order issued by Gov. Gary Herbert today requiring masks in public schools, to include students, teachers and staff returning to classes this fall. “Teachers are rightly concerned about returning to school this fall unless the school districts are prepared and taking proper precautions to protect students and staff,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “Today’s proclamation by Gov. Herbert requiring masks in public schools is a welcome step in the right direction.”
UEA PRESS RELEASE: Teachers are concerned school safety plans do not go far enough to protect students and school staff – July 8, 2020
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.”
Press Release from the Utah State Board of Education
Gov. Gary R. Herbert approved the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) Planning Requirements and Recommendations for K-12 School Reopening to be included with the state’s Phased Guidelines for the General Public and Businesses to Maximize Public Health and Economic Reactivation. USBE requires all Utah public schools to create reopening plans and post them on school websites by August 1.
“We appreciate the thought, care, and work that went into these requirements and recommendations,” the Governor said. “And we appreciate that so many health care professionals, teachers, administrators, parents, classified workers and others devoted their energies into creating these guidelines to help keep our children and our school employees safe and healthy this coming academic year.”
The newly approved requirements and recommendations constitute an addendum to the Phased Guidelines. They help school districts and charter schools define what to do, but also enable adaptability and innovation at the local level in determining how to make schools safe this fall.
“We will be digitally meeting with local school leaders throughout the state shortly to provide tools for applying appropriate principles and levers to mitigate risk of spread in school-specific settings,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson. “We have innovative problem solvers working in our public schools and we will work with districts and charter schools as they create their plans to keep our students and staff safe this coming school year.”
UEA provides Governor and State Board with safety priorities for returning to school, State Board adjusts recommendations – June 25, 2020
With the Governor and Utah State Board of Education (USBE) poised to provide guidelines for students to return to schools this fall, the UEA provided its own ‘Recommendations on School Reopening During COVID-19.’
In her cover letter to Gov. Gary Herbert dated June 24, UEA President Heidi Matthews wrote, “In a time of teacher shortage, the state must establish clear requirements to ensure educators feel confident and safe returning to their classroom. Additionally, clear requirements ensure teachers can focus on teaching rather than enforcing inconsistent or arbitrary policies like when and where students wear masks or maintaining six feet of physical separation between the teacher and student or among students.”
In a letter to the USBE dated June 18, UEA Director of Education Excellence and Government Relations Sara Jones wrote, “As the Board finalizes guidance for schools to re-open in the fall, the UEA asks you to incorporate the attached items. Earlier drafts of the guidance document create too much ambiguity. It is imperative there be clear requirements from the Board to protect the health and safety of students and employees in schools.”
During its June 25 meeting, USBE voted to add several recommendations to its School Reopening Plans Requirements and Recommendations (pdf). The requirements adopted by the Board in its June 18 meeting are being considered by Gov. Herbert and the Utah Leads Together Committee for incorporation into the state’s color-coded Phased Guidelines for the General Public and Businesses to Maximize Public Health and Economic Reactivation.
The requirements and recommendations are to assist districts and charter schools in creating local plans to assess and mitigate risks from COVID-19 as schools reopen for in-person instruction this fall. According to USBE, the intent is “to clearly define ‘what to do’ but enable adaptability and innovation at the local level to determine ‘how to do it’ by applying a set of principles and levers to mitigate risk of spread of COVID-19 across school settings.
Utah plans to ‘physically bring students…safely back to school in fall 2020’ – May 21, 2020
According to a report released May 20 by the Utah Economic Response Task Force, “the state has plans to physically bring students in kindergarten through post-secondary education safely back to school in fall 2020.”
The report, titled 'Utah Leads Together III, Utah’s plan for a health and economic recovery,' says, “depending on the evolving situation regarding the pandemic, there may be waves of stopping and starting, partial or staggered openings, other scheduling adjustments such as earlier or later start dates and times, or other developments determined by local health departments, population vulnerability, and more.”
While short on details, the report notes that, “guidance, which will be provided by the Utah State Board of Education in collaboration with local education leaders and state and local health departments, will steer and support schools in developing individualized plans to address health and safety as well as educational needs.”
Measures will include expanded contact tracing and proactive testing, the report says.
NEA COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants available to all member educators – April 28, 2020
In response to educators’ emerging needs, addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and learning, the NEA Foundation is offering three new grant opportunities. The purpose of the NEA Foundation’s Rapid Response Funding is to support educator-led initiatives to adapt to the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic during the summer months of 2020, for instance:
- Addressing the social and emotional needs of educators, students, and students’ families;
- Learning new pedagogy and/or adapting curricula to support distance/virtual learning and instruction;
- Addressing students’ summer learning loss;
- Preparing for the transition back to traditional schooling or adapting to continued virtual schooling;
- Supporting students’ parents’/caregivers’ efforts to support their children’s learning (via virtual class instruction or summer enrichment activities); and
- Meeting the nutritional needs of students who rely on school meals and school-based summer feeding programs.
Proposed projects must also identify and note how the proposed project addresses contributors to educational inequity and educational opportunity gaps. Grant guidelines, including the criteria and timelines, are available here
State and National Education Resources—