NewsCoronavirusLocal Coronavirus News


Utah spends millions on PPEs for back-to-school, but teachers say they're still waiting for them

Murray School
Posted at 2:29 PM, Aug 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-17 20:06:11-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education said it has spent millions of dollars to ensure schools across the state have enough face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to welcome students back to class during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But one state lawmaker said some teachers have yet to see any of that personal protective equipment arrive.

During a hearing Monday of the Utah State Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights -- who is a school teacher by profession -- said her own classroom had yet to see the necessary equipment.

"I have not seen any of this equipment in our schools and I’m receiving many emails and phone calls and social media displays that these things have not made it to our schools," Sen. Riebe said, adding that her district starts class on Aug. 24 and teachers were "nervous."

Sarah Young, the Utah State Board of Education's Director of Strategic Initiatives, said it was on its way.

"We are aware that your particular district, through their communications today, that all the necessary PPE is in stock and teachers will receive this week," she replied.

During the hearing, USBE officials said they have purchased extra face coverings and other equipment beyond what local school districts have done. But one item remains elusive, Young said.

"USBE placed an order for close to 200,000 packages of disinfectant wipes in early July," she told the subcommittee. "We are waiting delivery of those and currently expect them to be in the state of Utah by 15th of September."

Each teacher would get five packages of the wipes, the subcommittee was told.

Sen. Riebe also asked about who would enforce the face covering mandate issued by Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health.

"As I’m working in schools right now, parents are coming in and they’re not wearing masks," she said. "And we’re all kind of confused like, who’s going to be the person aggressively saying something," she said.

Dr. Sydnee Dickson, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said policies were in place and guidance has been given to local school districts. That prompted House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, to question the mandate for schools when some rural areas are in a lower restriction level for COVID-19.

"You’re in a 'green' county. But yet we’re going to aggressively remove kids from school when they don’t have to wear a mask anyplace else," he said.

Superintendent Dickson reiterated the mandate was issued statewide by the governor and health department.

"There is a mask order in place for the entire state and that is for all students and all adults in the building to wear a mask," she said.

After the hearing, Sen. Riebe said she continues to be contacted by teachers at school districts statewide and they have not received PPEs. Some have received cloth masks.

"We are totally not being protected at all," she said, adding that many teachers are afraid for their health as school resumes.

Monday's hearing is not the only one on back to school efforts. The legislature's powerful Education Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday where lawmakers will hear from state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, USBE officials and the Utah Education Association.