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'Teachers are writing their wills' UT State Ed Board member explains fears ahead of school year

Posted at 10:22 PM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-25 11:16:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah State Board of Education member is saying teachers don't feel safe with plans individual school districts are coming up with, to let kids back to school.

Board member Janet Cannon spoke out during a special meeting the board held Thursday, to go over COVID-19 related items on the state level.

During the meeting, board members went over the wording for a rule that mandates school districts fill out and submit to them a "school reopening requirements" document.

Cannon said she's been flooded with emails, over concerns about these plans that school districts would be submitting.

"These plans to do not meet any of the CDC recommendations," Cannon said, of what teachers are expressing to her. "They are putting our teachers at terrible risk."

Some districts, including Salt Lake City and the Jordan School District, have not decided their exact plans for the upcoming school year.

But others, including Canyons, Alpine and Granite, have decided to let students come back to class in some capacity.

Cannon talked about how she agrees with teachers that the plans aren't safe.
"Teachers are telling me they are writing their wills, because they are so fearful of going back and being attacked by virus," she said.

Nearly 100 people backed up that concern earlier Thursday, rallying at the State Capitol building with the Safe Utah Schools group.

Teacher Wendy Moss explained that they have questions: How will schools maintain safe social distancing? What about ventilation? What happens when a teacher gets sick and has to quarantine at home?

She said they want to be in school, but want to be in school safely-- and they don't feel they're safe yet.

"I love my job and I love my students, and I don't want them to get COVID in my classroom," she said, getting choked up.

Cannon shared during the board meeting that teachers are expressing the same fears to her.

"They're describing to me, 'What do I tell my students in my classroom when one of their classmates dies? Or when their teacher dies?'" She said. "It's... people are very frightened."

Other board members pointed out to Cannon that they were not going over what the reopening plans entailed, but rather the language in their administrative rule that requires these plans in the first place.

They explained it's up to each school district board to create their plans and assurances.

"So really, we're just assuring that they have done their work at the local level," board member Laura Belnap said.

In the end, the board approved of the language for that rule.

During the same meeting, the board approved changes to the administrative rule for attendance.

Called the "990 Hour Requirement," districts and charters schools are required to provide 180 days-- or 990 hours-- of education. Their eligibility for funding is tied to meeting that requirement.

However, with school schedules changing during COVID-19, classes could end up online, or a hybrid of in person and online.

Board members acknowledged that it might be hard to keep track of exact hours.
According to the approved language, districts can now waive the requirement if they submit a request describing how they, "will ensure continuity of teaching and learning by providing high quality instruction that includes blended learning and formative assessment strategies."

This will allow them to continue to be eligible for funding, even if they aren't providing the exact 990 hours of education.

The Utah State Board of Education approved the reopening of Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind as well.

The reopening plan includes daily screenings for students and teachers, such as filling out a checklist and temperature checks.

The school will maintain social distancing, the plan says, as well as keep class sizes small, and allow some staff to work remotely.

While face coverings are required when social distancing isn't possible, the plan says masks aren't necessary for students and staff with sensory or other disabilities.

Read the full list of protocols here.