Dear Superintendent Bates, Board President Winder, and members of the Granite school board,
I am writing you to plead once again that you prioritize the safety of your staff as well as the students.
GEA just completed a survey of its membership. There were over 1400 responses. A very large majority, over 69%, feel unsafe with the district’s current plan. Over 55%, 792 educators, say “No amount of PPE and cleaning will be enough without the ability to create adequate distance between people in the building,” and only eight percent say they have no concerns with Granite’s current plan for the 2020-21 school year.
This result is not surprising to any of us who have been reading the emails from educators these last few weeks. Educators are afraid. They are pleading. They are waiting for some sign that the district means what it says when it tells educators “we value you.” Based on these survey results, GEA is once again renewing its request that Granite School District change its plan to allow for distancing within our school buildings.
We are asking that teacher concerns about lack of social distancing be taken seriously. We have several recent examples of teacher-training events where the presenters asked participants to engage in close group work, writing on a common poster for example, passing a ball back and forth, or manipulating the same physical items as a team. In normal times such strategies would be admirable efforts to engage participants. In the current climate they are not simply an unnecessary risk; they send the message that the health and safety of the participants are not a priority, and that their concerns are not taken seriously.
Whatever plan the district uses must include adequate social distancing (six feet from another person who is not part of your immediate family). We believe that social distancing is possible in any meeting of adults in the school building. We ask that principals:
And I hope it goes without saying at this point that we expect principals to model and enforce mask-wearing in any room or space which educators and students will congregate. We also expect them to enforce the negotiated agreement, i.e. today, secondary teachers are being told they will need to donate 10 minutes of their duty-free lunch to facilitate student lunch transitions. Please communicate this expectation with all building administrators.
Unfortunately, the efforts made to allow elementary educators the option to teach face-to-face or online has become confusing and difficult, if not near impossible, for many school buildings. Following are significant challenges we are hearing:
Please note that this requested shift in plan is not meant to replace the medical accommodations necessary for some educators to not be face-to-face with students but allow for the ADAAA interactive process to meet the needs of these high-risk individuals.
Educators are afraid for their health and the health of their loved ones. We are said to be essential employees and are the only group of such workers asked to be sequestered in a room with 25+ people for several hours a day, every day. GEA is asking that educators’ fears and concerns be acknowledged and more so, addressed. Telling educators not to worry is not helpful. Providing sanitation materials is not enough. Show us that you take our concerns seriously. Make the difficult decisions necessary to protect all your employees, and students.
Dear Granite District School Board members, President Winder, and Dr. Bates:
GEA is writing today to follow up on the concerns expressed in our July 13th letter, and to correct a possible false impression that the teachers support the current Granite re-opening plan.
We had an emergency meeting of the GEA building representatives last night. Teachers still have many of the same concerns that were expressed in our first letter. The number one concern is the same as it was on July 13th - How will appropriate social distancing be managed in a classroom with 30+ students?
GEA requests that you reconsider your plan to reopen schools on a regular schedule with all students attending on the same day, 5-days weekly. This plan does not allow for distancing in the classroom, and it puts teachers, staff, and students at high risk.
(To illustrate the problem, I had attached a video a high school teacher shared with us that shows the desks in her classroom, where can see that distancing will not be possible. I have removed attachments so the email would send.)
I hope to correct a possible false impression created during a discussion at the last board meeting by sharing information we received from a survey GEA just completed. We asked building representatives what they were hearing from the teachers at their school. Over 60% report either hearing from high risk teachers who are afraid to return, or that a majority of their coworkers are extremely anxious and concerned about the district’s plan. Asked about the level of concern, 58% said either teachers are “extremely concerned” about the inability to physically distance, or that it was their number one concern. Finally, if asked to choose between distance learning only, returning to full-time in-person teaching, or a modified schedule, 57% say teachers in their building would prefer a modified schedule that only had half the students in the building at a time.
The argument was made in the last school board meeting that since teachers expressed concern over the difficulty of teaching in two modalities, that teachers must prefer going back full time over a modified schedule. This is clearly not the case. Yes, teachers are concerned - extremely concerned - about the workload. However, the modified schedule, as it was being explained in June, would have given teachers Friday to prepare distance learning lessons. It was when the plan changed to full-time regular schedule that we really started to hear the worries about doing two full-time jobs.
I understand that there are many reasons you may desire a regular schedule with all the students in the building at once ( and possibly 20% learning online); I just don’t want the false idea that teachers support this plan to be one of the reasons.
Teachers are concerned about the safety of Granite’s current plan, to the extent that some of them are choosing to leave. Teachers have chosen early retirement, a one-year unpaid leave of absence, or simply resigning, rather than face what they perceive as unsafe working conditions created by Granite’s current plan. Granite has, thus far, been willing to allow teachers to leave and waive deadlines for retirement for example, and for that we are grateful. It is GEA’s sincere hope that teachers will not be fined if they resign without the usual 30-day notice, in these extreme circumstances. They are leaving because of the model you have chosen, to have all the students in the building at once, with no opportunity for distancing. Teachers would be more willing to return to work if you were to reconsider this model.
Since submitting to you our concerns on July 13th, many of the concerns we expressed have been addressed. GEA wants to thank the board for addressing concerns around increased teacher workload and having to teach both online and in-person. We don’t believe all these issues have been solved. We know that particular schools (small schools, dual language, etc.) will not be able to assign staff to a single modality, and will need additional planning time. At the secondary level, it’s problematic to have students frequently switching modalities. But we believe that progress is being made on this issue, and we look forward to continuing productive conversations.
We are also grateful for the collaboration of district administration in answering the many questions teachers have sent us. The district’s Frequently Asked Questions document contains reassurances about many of our concerns, including that principals will enforce the mask-wearing requirements, and that Personal Protective Equipment will be provided. We look forward to continued collaboration and problem-solving with the district administration.
We anticipate district cooperation as we troubleshoot the individual school plans that are being developed. We expect that such plans will honor the negotiated agreement between GEA and the district. We especially want to underline the need for planning and preparation time for teachers. With the new expectations this year, teachers will need more planning time, not less. All school plans must also provide for a 30-minute duty-free lunch. We also ask that principals be sensitive to childcare issues which are created for our employees by COVID 19 and other school districts’ responses to it.
There are many routines and practices that will have to be different this year due to the pandemic. Therefore, we respectfully request that unnecessary changes be delayed. Specifically, we ask that the district stop any new rollouts of new programs that were planned for this year. Let’s press pause on introducing anything new that is not made necessary by our present crisis.
This week we heard that Davis District has changed their plan, and will open with a modified schedule, allowing half the students to attend at a time. Realizing that COVID-19 cases may be higher in Davis County at this time, Salt Lake County still struggles with hot spots where Granite schools reside.
GEA asks that Granite District will also reconsider their current plan to open fully. We should return to a regular schedule only when transmission rates are as low or lower than they were in March. GEA is formally requesting that Granite District open in August using a modified schedule that would have half the students in the building at a time.
I trust, whatever the plan, that we will keep working together to make every possible provision for the safety of teachers, staff, and students.
Thank you, sincerely,