SALT LAKE CITY — As school districts prepare for the upcoming semester – the state board of education is discussing ways they are addressing the different circumstances schools are facing including; uncertainty of COVID-19, racial unrest and injustice, and economic loss of security.
Returning to school in the midst of COVID-19 has presented an unusual set of challenges and questions for parents and school staff members alike.
“Certainly, the uncertainty of COVID-19 has everybody on edge,” said State Superintendent, Sydnee Dickson, during the Utah State Board of Education’s (USBE) virtual meeting Thursday.
But, this fall, Dickson said schools aren’t just facing one crisis, but three.
Coronavirus, racial unrest and injustice, and economic loss of security.
“I want us to be mindful, it has created a lot of toxic stress and a lot of social-emotional needs for our students as we return to school,” Dickson continued.
Throughout the summer months USBE has focused on 10-points in order to address the issues.
In regard to the first, the pandemic, USBE said it is placing a priority on providing schools with PPE.
Dickson cited a large amount of K95 masks to be provided for teachers, as well as 100-thousand face shields.
When asked by a board member why some teachers had cried out for donations of PPE, claiming their schools had not received any, Dickson said it was likely a lapse in communication between school leaders and their teachers.
“Most schools have purchased some equipment,” Dickson said. “I think it goes back to, they just have not been informed, I honestly have not had one principal, superintendent, charter director, tell me they don’t have what they need.”
“We know that they all have masks, we know that the wipes that they need are coming a little bit later,” she continued. “But in terms of hand sanitizer or those types of things, I have not had anyone tell me they don’t have it, I think it’s just informing the teachers on what they do or don’t have.”
Another way USBE said it is addressing the pandemic is by providing their teachers with education to learn how to teach in new ways, hybrid or online, and providing the resources to do so.
The pandemic planning also included providing assistance with the new licensing structure, so more teachers can be teachers.
In regard to the second crisis, racial unrest and injustice, Dickson said schools were implementing implicit bias training.
“We’ve really talked about our own culture and have had some raw, honest conversations about the way that some of our employees have felt marginalized,” Dickson said. “We’re tackling that and being very honest and open and getting rid of it first in our own workplace, and making sure that our employees of color have leadership opportunities and that our students see people that look like them as principals and counselors and leaders in the state.”
And finally, in regard to economic loss of security, USBE said it is working to providing support for parents, amplify mental health efforts in schools, and combat food insecurity.
“We have students who have been hungry, we have had students lose their homes due to parents losing of jobs,” said Dickson.
USBE said they are also placing precedence on treating broadband as an essential service.
“If we’re going to improve outcomes for students, we need to improve their access and we can’t expect to be in a remote situation if we don’t have that and teach kids in and equitable way.”
A large undertaking, hoping to add some clarity to blurred lines.
“These are feelings and issues that are coming into our schools as well, that our educators and leaders will need to address,” Dickson said.