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.