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Utah Education Association sends frustrated letter to governor amid school COVID-19 spikes

Posted at 10:21 PM, Sep 18, 2020

The Utah Education Association Friday fired off two letters, one to Governor Gary Herbert and one to the State Board of Education, calling for changes in how state leaders and local health departments oversee school district safety plans.

"On behalf of Utah educators, the Utah Education Association calls on you to increase state oversight and compliance measures to protect the health and safety of public school students, educators and school staff," the letter to Governor Herbert reads.

Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said they're realizing that safety measures districts and schools have put into place have not been adhered to.

"We have unnecessarily put our teachers, our educators at risk," she said.

While she didn't want to name specific districts, Matthews explained that they're concerned about some districts in the Salt Lake area where guidelines for quarantine or remote learning are not being followed, despite a rise in cases.

"The cases have spiked in a school and yet our local school boards are continuing to look at ways to ignore those safety standards," Matthews said.

She talked about how school districts each came up with safety plans in the event of a COVID-19 surge, and said that teachers counted on those plans.

"And yet, at least four high schools have now exceeded this threshold of exposure and their school district boards are electing to ignore these recommendations," the letters state.

They stated that teachers said they feel helpless, disrespected and unsafe.

The letters came on the day the Canyons School Board called a special meeting after more than 500 people were quarantined and a teacher with COVID-19 was placed on a ventilator.

The UEA is asking for state and local health departments to step in to make sure districts follow their plans, and take action like telling a school it's time to shut down if cases spike.

"They have the authority and the duty to come in and enforce those mandates," Matthews said.

Matthews explained that they are noticing an increase in school COVID-19 cases in areas where there's an increase in community cases. She also indicated that there are also spikes where there is more concentrated face-to-face learning.

She said teachers are now questioning their decision to be in the classroom given the circumstances they're having to navigate.

"There is a huge urgency," she said. "And we need all of our entities to come together."

At the end of the letter to the Governor, the UEA wrote: "We call on you to protect students, educators and school staff by establishing clear, enforceable requirements based on guidance from health professionals."

Governor Gary Herbert's office responded to the letter Friday:

"We appreciate the engagement of the UEA. Given the recent surge in cases, our office is working with the Unified Command and stakeholders to ensure our response is modulated to best protect public health and safety."

The Utah State Board of Education also released a statement about the letter:

"USBE values the strong and successful partnership that exists with the UEA and we look forward to taking the time to review their requests. We are certain that keeping staff and students safe while ensuring that quality instruction continues, remains the highest priority for our school communities."

Click here to read the full letter to the governor.

Click here to read the full letter to the board.