GEA has worked with the district on frequently asked questions that have been coming to both the district and our office.
As additional questions come in, they will be posted to this forum with answers.
Please keep the link so you can check back frequently.
Follow the link below:
GEA believes that teachers are the experts in the classroom, and we do everything we can to elevate teachers’ voices in the plans that affect your classroom. We will often call on members to write to the school board or the legislature, or otherwise speak up on matters of policy. As your advocates, we also have a role in protecting your employment and keeping you from getting in trouble. It is in that spirit that we offer the following advice:
As licensed public-school educators, there are limitations to our first amendment rights. If you choose to speak publicly about your concerns regarding school reopening, it is recommended you keep the following in mind:
As stated above, GEA encourages educators to speak out about issues impacting employment and the health and safety of employees and students. This post is not a discouragement of professional and necessary communication with elected leaders. Keep your letters and concerns coming, just be mindful of appropriate guidelines.
UEA put out a press release today about delaying the return to school buildings.
"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 Utah Education Association calls 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."
Read more >>>
Given the links to articles I’m being sent frequently, it’s clear many of us are subscribed to the same news feeds. I am keenly aware of, and very concerned about, Utah’s COVID numbers and trends. I know this is a time when you and I have lots of concerns and lots of feelings and lots of unanswered questions. The idea of going back to school raises fears about spreading the virus further and even contracting the virus ourselves. These fears naturally extend to concerns we all have for the health and safety of our loved ones, parents, spouses and children. The risks are real, and I know those feelings and concerns are both genuine and valid.
Please know, as superintendent, I feel great responsibility for all of our 64,000 students and their families, and for our more than 8,000 employees and their families. However, I can also say that I am approaching this coming school year with confidence - wariness, yes - but with confidence. I’d like to share with you why.
While I do not know our state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn personally, I know many who do. They have great respect for and confidence in her. I have personally known our state superintendent Dr. Sydnee Dickson for more than two decades. I know no one who is more competent or who cares for children more deeply than she. I have great confidence in the direction we receive from her.
I know the leaders of our county health department personally. I am extremely grateful to them for taking CDC guidance - guidance that is issued and worded to have application from Waynesville, Missouri to New York City - and translating it for specific application to Granite School District. I have great confidence in the health department team that has been assigned to work directly with our district with everything from contact tracing to analysis of specific situations and guidance accordingly. I know that every “positive” diagnosis is reported to the health department and that each time they immediately work with us to determine the medically expedient next steps.
I have great confidence in our school nurses, medical professionals who have dedicated their careers to helping children be safe and healthy at school.
I have great confidence in school leaders, assigned to serve in our more than 90 schools. They know their people, their facilities, their resources and their communities. I’m so impressed with the thoughtful, principle-based plans they are developing with their leadership teams and broader communities.
I have great confidence in our support personnel and their abilities to keep our work and learning spaces clean as they do everything from preparing lunch to installing hospital-grade air filters into our school HVAC systems.
I have great confidence in our nearly 4000 educators who recognize that they represent the only opportunity for tens of thousands of our kids to get an education, the only possible ticket out of poverty and into a healthy and self-sufficient life. Over the last ten years I have visited thousands of our classrooms and can’t imagine a more professional and dedicated group. I would hold our teachers up against any group any time and anywhere.
I have great confidence in the families of Granite School District, specifically our parents. No one knows the children better than they and I honor the decisions they make for their children. Some may feel their children will be better served in a distance modality for a time, I respect that and we will do all we can to serve them to meet their needs. For the families who do not choose a distance option and for the very many for whom a distance option is simply not a real option, we will provide for them as well. None of our district’s children can afford to fall further behind, especially those referenced before for whom we represent the only opportunity for a successful future.
Please know that we are listening closely to the governor’s office, including Dr. Dunn and associated state health officials, our county health leaders and our state superintendent. I do not know what changes will occur over the next weeks and months but have confidence yet again in their ability to issue guidance and our ability to pivot accordingly.
I sincerely thank you all for all you do!
Granite School District, Superintendent
Many decisions were made and shared during the Granite District School Board meeting on Tuesday, July 14. The final decision by the school board (Todd Zenger, dissenting vote) is for the District to re-open schools for all students who wish to attend in-classroom instruction and provide an online option for families who choose to keep students at home. The specific details of the District’s plan which will be sent to the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) by August 1 can be found on this weblink: file:///U:/COVID-19/REOPENING%202020/July-14-2020-School-Reopening-Requirements-Template-.pdf.
Some of the questions GEA posed in its July 12th letter to the school board members and the superintendent were addressed. We also met with assistant superintendents on Wednesday, July 15, to discuss the plan and how to move forward. Your AdvoCats have been included in regularly meetings with the top leaders of the District to ensure educator voices are heard and their issues addressed.
The biggest question educators have is “how can we change the board decision to open schools fully next month.” Unfortunately, this plan to re-open schools will not change at this time. Should the state governor and legislature give direction to the Utah School Board of Education to move to school dismissal, or a hybrid model, actions would be different. For now, the board is under political pressure to open schools fully, and are also concerned about the families in the District who are struggling economically, students who are unsupervised at home, and the large population of students (over 60%) who are dependent on schools for daily nutrition. The school board has expressed their concerns for the health and safety of District employees and is giving direction to the District to mitigate risk as much as possible. Many educators have written letters of concern to board members and the superintendent. GEA encourages this direct contact with District leaders as well as with your GEA leadership and AdvoCats.
Social distancing in the classroom will be a challenge with the class sizes in Granite. While the District is asking school principals to create a safe plan for their schools, there will still be less than six feet distance between students in most cases. GEA requested some type of plexiglass surrounds for student desks and tables, and the District facilities director is investigating options. Hospital grade masks and face shields have been purchased for educator safety in the classroom. If you don’t receive adequate PPE for your needs, please contact your principal and/or GEA.
We encourage school leadership teams to include the GEA representative in the discussions you’re having with your principal so that we have a collective voice in how the school will manage facilities, processes, sanitation, temperature taking, recess and lunch transitions, relocatable units, et al.
A few other places GEA has been able to make a difference is with workload concerns. Educators have said that, if we are on a normal schedule, working two modalities in tandem is not possible. GEA leadership and your AdvoCats agree. The District has heard our concerns and is trying to work through a solution at the elementary level where high-risk educators may coordinate with their school principal to arrange to be a distance-learning only educator. The specifics of this plan are fluid, but the intent is for each grade level or split grade levels will have an educator working entirely with online curriculum. These educators would be in the school building, but working in a private space. This will free educators who are teaching in-class from the necessity to teach and plan for both modalities. We are hoping strong collaboration at the school level and between colleagues and their principal will help make this possible.
At the secondary level, the District also acknowledges that teaching two modalities is a lot to ask of individual teachers. GEA is working with the District to provide options for additional preparation time, such as having one day, preferably Friday, scheduled without students in the building. This day will allow educators to work with students who are distance learning, as well as have time to create online lessons for the upcoming week. Any plan for schedule changes will need to be approved by the school board, but GEA is confident the board will see the necessity for this adjustment.
Sanitation is a big concern and we are working on the practicalities of this in the classroom. Currently, the plan is that each student will be given a microfiber cloth to clean their workspace. Educators will be provided with the necessary cleaning solution. These cloths will be gathered daily for cleaning, as well as the student masks. EDUCATORS ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR TAKING THESE HOME TO WASH. In fact, we discourage any educator from taking contaminated materials home at the risk of infection. The District will provide the cleaning either on-site or via a laundry service.
Air filtration systems in all the buildings will be upgraded with higher grade filters and increased air circulation. Relocatable classrooms will have upgraded filters in their individual air filtration systems. Where possible, portable water stations will be provided outside for the use of students and educators in relocatable classrooms. The custodial and facilities teams have been working very hard this summer to address areas that risk contamination.
Issues around how to accommodate educators assigned to work with special needs students are being reviewed and discussed. The Utah School Nurse Association has provided guidance to districts statewide on how to safely reopen schools. We encourage everyone to review the guidance because it provides important information. Educators on leadership teams and GEA representatives should use this as a guide when planning with your principal. Some areas addressed are how to care for students with asthma, diabetes, and those that require G-tube feedings, catheterization and tracheostomy care, etc. If you are a special educator and believe your safety is not being addressed, please contact your principal and/or GEA.
Finally, because we understand that we have not answered all the questions educators have, GEA is working with the District to provide an online FAQ (frequently asked questions) which will be updated daily to respond to concerns. Send your specific questions to GEA and we will work with the District to find answers and include them in the online FAQ as much as possible. If you have a question, be assured there are several more who are wondering the same thing. This FAQ is an effort to keep the District current on issues that arise as the process and procedures for school opening shift and change by the day.
Thank you for your patience and continued support of your GEA leaders as we navigate these chaotic waters on your behalf. Working collaboratively takes time and doesn’t pack the same punch as a staged walk-out, but GEA is convinced that more is achieved by dialogue and negotiations. Our years of successful negotiations and relationship building with the District board and administration has provided one of the best professional agreements, salary and benefits, and working conditions in the state for Granite educators. Utah state law does not provide protection for public school employees who strike or walk-off the job in protest. As a right-to-work state any strike action would be considered “job abandonment” and subject to immediate termination. While GEA won’t discourage anyone from exercising their 1st amendment rights to speak and protest, we continue our collective focus on finding workable solutions for the whole of GEA members, especially the most vulnerable. Remember, you ARE GEA, and your voice and support helps make us a stronger professional association!
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at the GEA office (801) 266-4411, or by email.
Yesterday GEA sent the following letter to the Granite School Board and Superintendent Martin Bates. Our intent was to alert them to the concerns of teachers. At tonight's school board meeting, a plan for next school year will be finalized. We STRONGLY encourage you to listen in on the meeting.
Follow this link to the Granite School District website for access to the meeting online: https://www.graniteschools.org/bulletin/july-14-board-of-education-meeting/
If you have not contacted your school board member or Dr. Bates regarding your concerns, please do so before 5pm TODAY!
Dear President Winder and Dr. Bates,
GEA is writing today to express concerns with the plans the district board and administration are making for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. While we have been meeting with you and discussing educator concerns throughout the summer, we feel obligated to outline some of the pressing issues GEA members are bringing to our attention.
The current plan to begin the year, August 24, with all students attending full-time, five days a week is aggravating any safety measures that might be in place. Having 30+ students in a classroom with a lack of ventilation, air circulation, space to distance, etc. has teachers fearful of their health and safety. Some of the concerns they have are as follows:
According to the basic CDC guidelines for reopening schools: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/Schools-Decision-Tree.pdf we believe the district is not prepared or able to meet the first guidelines of maintaining safety by addressing how students and staff will be monitored prior to entering a school building, and where they will be held if they show a fever or any of the symptoms related to COVID-19. We know that parents will send their students to school with a dose of medication and a hope that they can get through the day even while being ill. What is the plan to ensure these students are not intermingling with the population at large? Also, the district has not addressed high-risk personnel in the teaching staff. At least a third of our teachers are at high-risk and while they are able and willing to work from home, they are being told this is not an option. There needs to be a remedy for their continued service other than leaving the district. The Utah State Board of Education lists the following requirements to LEAs when planning for reopening:
GEA believes this calls for more consideration of teachers who are high-risk to work online or be re-assigned during this time when COVID-19 cases are escalating in the state. Suggesting that these career teachers choose between their long careers at Granite or their health or life is not meeting the basic requirements the state outlines. We cannot afford to lose our most experienced teachers due to the lack of options for online teaching.
GEA is asking the district board and administration to consider these basic needs:
Michael McDonough, GEA President
Pressure is building as we move closer to the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Tuesday’s (July 7, 2020) Granite District School Board meeting created relief for some as we heard GSD Board President Karyn Winder ask district administration questions about employees’ health and safety. These concerns were echoed by other board members and made the educators listening in grateful that the messages they have been sending to the district administration and board members were being heard.
The meeting also created many more questions and concerns for educators as the plan to move full steam ahead in opening schools next month was shared. Granted the district shared some protocols, but none of what was shared felt like it would answer the immediate questions educators continue to have.
Mike McDonough, President of the Granite Education Association, was also on the call to monitor the responses from the district and board since he and other GEA staff and leaders have been petitioning both parties to acknowledge educator concerns (and by “educator” we mean all GEA members who instruct and support students).
What we do know for certain is that plans have not been finalized. We still have time to affect change, and GEA will continue to work with the district to that end. Also, we know that the specific concerns, such as crowded classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, outside school equipment, online instruction, hygiene and sanitation processes, etc. will all be decided at the school building level. Principals will have the charge of taking a finalized district-wide plan and making it work in their school communities. They will not be doing this alone, but depending on school leadership teams, and building professional committees to lead out on the day-to-day guidelines for safety. Here are some of the many protocols the individual schools (principals and educators) are required to address per the Utah State Board of Education:
One of the biggest questions GEA is receiving from members right now is about leave benefits in this pandemic environment. We posted a blog which addressed leave as presented by the district which included all the leave options available to employees via the professional agreement. Many are asking, “what if I don’t have enough accumulated sick days?” or “what if my child(ren) are ill and need(s) to quarantine for 14 days? The health department alphabet soup (CDC, Utah Health Department, USBE) all require plans for high risk employees. Here’s how the USBE defines high-risk individuals:
“people 65 years and older, people who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, people of all ages with underlying medical conditions, including lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, people who have serious heart conditions, people who are immunocompromised (many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications), people with severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis or liver disease.”
If you believe your situation is described above, contact Berkley King, HR Benefits Director, at Granite School District AND contact GEA.
In addition to your contractual leave benefits, the Family First Coronavirus Response Act provides federal benefits as well:
We will get through this together. Student success is at the heart of everything we do in public education. An educators’ well-being (mental, emotional, physical) is at the heart of everything GEA does for members. Together we will balance the ups and downs of the next school year.
Finally, here is a chart from the CDC which outlines the necessary protocols for school districts re-opening.
Dear GEA members,
Here at the GEA office, Star, Cindy, and I have heard from many, many members with concerns about the district’s plan for re-opening schools next month. Due to the volume of the emails, and because we have all been spending time communicating with the district, we have not been able to respond to each email as quickly as we like to. I apologize if this has made you feel like GEA was not hearing you. This message is from Star and Cindy as well. I want to assure you that your messages are being heard.
GEA is not sitting on the sidelines, we are advocating teachers concerns, issues, worries, and needs daily. We continue to try and influence the district to put in place all measures needed for teacher safety.
I know many of you tuned in to the school board meeting on Tuesday. As we listened, it was clear that our messages to school board members were affecting the discussion. Thank you to those of you who reached out to share your concerns. We have been in contact with Board members since that meeting.
At that meeting, a 2-step process was outlined. First, the district’s plan will be approved and sent to the state. Second, each school will be asked to create a school plan. Once the district sends guidelines to principals, teachers will then have an opportunity to give input on the specifics of how that plan will work in their school. So now is the time to reach out to your principal and ask to be involved in that discussion. Let the principal know that you want to have a voice in what your school plan will look like.
I hope that you saw the press release that UEA Pres. Heidi Mathews sent out yesterday. https://myuea.org/Articles/uea_press_release_teachers_are_concerned_school_safety_plans_do_not_go_far_enough_to_protect_students_and_school_staff.aspx
GEA stands behind this message. And we are having an effect statewide. The Governor’s press conference today indicated that there will be specific mask requirements for all schools going forward. District plans, and school plans, will have some leeway in implementing the directive, but your message that students should be required to wear masks is being heard.
Your concern about having to prepare lessons for both online and in-person teaching has also been heard, and we are in conversation with the district to advocate for prep time.
Thank you for staying involved. Continue to send us your questions and concerns. Thank you for your patience as we all work together on this evolving situation. And finally, thank you for belonging to GEA. It is your membership which gives our collective voice the influence it has.
Michael McDonough, GEA president
Star Orullian, GEA Executive Director
Cindy Formeller, GEA Uniserv Director
I have received many thoughtful and thought provoking notes and emails from many teachers – I’m truly grateful for these. I suspect many more of you have similar concerns and questions so I want to communicate to all of you directly. Because answers tend to generate new questions, my response email might seem lengthy, I apologize.
First and foremost, I am truly heartened that the vast majority of teachers who’ve contacted board of education members and me, have expressed their love for the kids they teach and for their profession. I think we all know that teaching is the most honorable of all professions. We’ve always claimed to be crucial and I believe the public in general recognizes that reality more today than ever before. No one asked for this pandemic, it’s impacting everyone. I have personally lost people close to me due to the virus and you surely have as well. Yet despite the pandemic, we have a mission to accomplish, a mission that is greater than me or any individual or personality. I am optimistic about success and about the future and my optimism comes directly because of the people who make up Granite School District. We have the best and the brightest in our ranks and I sincerely honor each of you and all of them for their service.
To this point, I’ve attached the Utah specific guidance school districts have received regarding reopening (note that the USBE document says “Draft,” the Governor has since approved it). I encourage you to look those over – principals have had these documents for several weeks and are preparing school specific plans with their leadership teams accordingly. In the Governor’s briefings he, and state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, have emphasized several times and in different ways, the crucial role schools play in our communities and society. They have alluded to other experts, including the American Association of Pediatrics. One segment from the AAP that I’ve seen referred to multiple times is the following:
The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families. (Emphasis in the original)
One doesn’t have to listen to the Governor, Dr. Dunn or State Superintendent Dickson very long to recognize that our public education system plays just as crucial a societal and community role in our realm as do hospitals in their realm. As I have listened to their statements and read the materials they present, the conclusion is unavoidable that we have (at least) a threefold responsibility: First, academic; second, nutritional; and third, child care/welfare. The third responsibility has really struck home the last few years – look at the AAP statement and think of new state laws regarding child abuse identification training for all school employees and the statement in the USBE reopening document to “consider financial hardships and alternative childcare arrangements for single parent families or for families in which both parents must work outside the home and strain on childcare capacity.” Whether it was part of our teacher preparation programs or not, we serve the community in filling these three roles and are, consequently, as essential an industry as any hospital.
A number of letters we received encouraged the mandate of face coverings for children, something the state board and several local boards of education had considered but not adopted. Our board directed me to develop and bring a recommendation to that effect – requiring face coverings for children at all school functions or activities when a 6 foot distance between attendees could not be sustained – for the board meeting next Tuesday. It was prepared and was on the agenda when the Governor issued the same directive making our action moot. Consequently that will not be an action item on next Tuesday’s agenda.
Following face coverings, the second most emphasized point was the burden associated with giving parents an option (against the recommendation of the AAP, but within the rights of parents to direct the education of their children) to have their children participate in school via distance learning. In fairness, the burden lies less in giving parents that option, but in assuming that teachers would provide that service alongside face-to-face instruction. The explanation has some subtleties so please forgive me adding this context.
School districts receive the vast majority of their funding from the state based on the average daily membership of students in the district. When there are more students, district receive more funding, when there are fewer students, funding is reduced. Consider an elementary school with around 550 students. Based on the state funding we receive, the district allocates one full time equivalent, conceptually one teacher, for every 27.25 students. In the spring, schools receive their projected student count, and hire accordingly. So our school has hired 20 teachers for the fall of 2020. We come to the first day of school and let’s say a third of the parents decide not to send their kids. Our surveying of parents suggests that a third is probably the worst case scenario, we expect, especially given the Governor’s face covering order, that 10-15% will not attend face-to-face. But let’s say a third. What do we do with 7 extra teachers? This wouldn’t be a regular “fall surplus” where other schools have increased in enrollment and need those teachers, we expect that most if not all schools will be “down” students from their projections. The average total cost of a teacher, with retirement and benefits, approaches $80,000 now. That is a larger dollar amount, $560,000, than a 550 student school receives in Trust Lands and TSSA dollars. The scenario could well necessitate a reduction in our teacher force. Remember, fewer kids means reduced funds means loss of teachers – we don’t want this.
The easy answer is to assign those 7 teachers to teach all the distance students in the school. Let’s take this in one more level. Our school has a 5th grade with 90 students, three teachers, 30 kids per teacher. Since we are assuming a third, two teachers have face-to-face kids, 30 each, and one teacher has 30 kids, all distance. Here is where the problem lies with this model. What happens when there is a flare up in the third week of school and 20 in-person parents decide to go distance. Now the distance teacher has 50 students and the face-to-face teachers 20 each – assuming the kids left both classes in even numbers. Or, what if 20 of the distance families decide that having the kids at home is too difficult and send their students back to school. Now the face-to-face teachers have 40 each, and the distance teacher 10. This suggests that this “designate distance teachers” model only works if we are prepared to tell parents that they can’t change their minds, in effect, telling them that they are making an irrevocable decision about modality. In fact, we will explore with our board of education whether to require parents of elementary students to make a commitment – by quarter – for one modality or the other in our elementary schools. This would allow us to deploy our teachers as either face-to-face teachers or distance teachers. It reduces some flexibility for families but eliminates the dual modality planning requirement for elementary teachers.
Now, why am I distinguishing elementary and secondary? The vast majority of secondary teachers have a planning period each day – elementary teachers get a couple of hours on Friday. The number of “preps” for secondary teachers is less than the 11 for every elementary teacher. Secondary teachers teach a subject, elementary teachers teach all 11. We’re going to spend more time with our secondary folks regarding tools and planning, but the current pinch point is the planning burden of teaching in a dual modality on our elementary teachers. We will move to the secondary realities next.
Please recognize that while principals have had materials and direction for several weeks, site specific (that is, situation specific) plans have understandably not yet been completed. Principals are working with their leadership teams, and even inviting parents where possible, to address the unique needs and realities of their local communities. This is the right time and the right place for teachers to be involved and voice their concerns and opinions, please do so!
I feel to address something that came up in several letters as well. Many people listened in to the board meeting earlier this week and mistakenly believed they were hearing decisions being made rather than information being received. Board members asked, and I answered (some of the answers may have come from my staff members, but I take full responsibility for all of those) questions about employment and liability. I trust you understand that as elected officials the board of education has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Granite School District and to not ask those questions – and for me to not answer those – would have been a breach of those fiduciary duties. I truly apologize to those who felt devalued, objectified or unappreciated by the discussion, it was never the intent to be callous and the bottom line management discussion does not reflect how we feel about or think about our employees.
While long, very long, I hope this has been helpful. We are listening and we are responding, although not always in the way others might wish.