Someone told me, “I can’t bear to hear the word “unprecedented” one more time,” so we’re going to work with “unpredictable.” These are indeed unpredictable times. GEA has received many calls and emails of concern from members regarding the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The rush to move to distance learning in March of this year caused anxiety, fear, frustration, and exhaustion. Teachers pulled a hat trick by not only moving from having in-classroom instruction to online, but also creating community, fun, and endless calls and emails to students and parents. Many of you have said that you spent many more hours in distance learning (not just the instruction piece) but the countless calls and questions from students which reached into late in the evening. Now, as the coronavirus hovers over our communities, our thoughts turn to what happens when school starts in August? THAT is the big question.
District administrators have been working very hard to strategize around these unpredictable times. Dr. Bates has announced in both writing and verbally, that the District’s plan of action will be based on the CDC guidelines which go to the state government, and then is shared by Governor Herbert for action. What happens when even the government is confused about what to do about school attendance in the fall? We create an “umbrella of precautions to prevent insecurity”
“The future is only grim because people see it that way. It's unpredictable. Life is a summer storm of insecure thoughts. There's an umbrella of precautions to prevent insecurity, but it doesn't always keep the rain out of your face.”
― Julian Winters, Running With Lions
Your AdvoCats have been at the table during all District planning; continuing to ensure your voice is in the room and your rights are protected. This planning is a moving target and may change as quickly as the number of positive COVID-19 cases do each day. Following are some of the most common questions we have received from GEA members:
Will teachers be expected to teach both online and in the classroom?
The short answer is “yes.” The District has announced that it will take cues from the state health department on what is appropriate for school re-opening and there will be a balance of both distance and in-person instruction. In order to maintain physical distancing, the District is suggesting a hybrid schedule of student in-classroom attendance. Students with last names starting with A-L will attend in classroom on Monday and Wednesday. Students with last names starting with M-Z will attend in classroom on Tuesday and Thursday. Teachers will record their classroom instruction on these days and broadcast to the students, via Google Meet or Canvas, who will be “attending” from home online. Details for this plan were rolled out at the School Board meeting last week. For further details you can access the following links: Administrative presentation to the Granite school board, and the YouTube video of the meeting (note that this discussion begins at the 1:02 timeline).
In order to balance out the time it will take to create online instructional materials and prepare for each week, Friday’s will be days when teachers have time to plan, coordinate, and create what is necessary for the upcoming week. GEA continues to argue for increased planning time so as to accommodate all that they are being asked to do this year.
Will teachers receive training and/or instruction for online instruction?
In May the District sent a survey to all teachers regarding their top needs for planning for the 2020-21 school year. The results show that the top three needs are:
These needs have been the action the District has taken this summer to provide these and other resources for teachers. Beginning on August 13 – August 21 teachers are expected to return to work and, as negotiated, these days will be divided between 2.5 days for time in the classroom to prepare for the new year, and the other days will be shared with faculty professional development and online instruction, etc. The presentation link above will show the format outlined in detail. GEA closely followed the planning and preparation of these days and the District collaborated with GEA to ensure the contractual language was followed.
A survey was sent to parents regarding their preferences for returning to school, why didn’t we (teachers) have the option to submit our preferences?
The District, as the employer, will determine the working guidelines based on scientific evidence, Utah State Board of Education guidelines, state risk management, and governmental mandates and suggestions. The survey in May was a way for the District to hear what teachers need to be successful in their work. The safety, health, and wellbeing of teachers has been strongly advocated by GEA in collaboration with legal counsel. We will protect teacher rights and working conditions and heavily rely on the collaborative and respectful working relationship we have with the District.
What happens if we come back to school, and there is a positive case (of COVID-19) in my classroom or in the school?
If we are to return in August full-time or in some hybrid manner, all precautions will be in place to maintain a safe and sanitized learning environment. Temperatures of students and staff will be taken prior to entering the building, custodians will daily deeply sanitize the entire building each day, air ventilation will be available where necessary, etc. Precautions will be in place for six feet of physical distancing, and the District will have masks available for every employee and student. However, infection will likely happen, and when this does, the school (like what occurred with Hunter High last spring), or the classroom(s) involved will close and students and teachers will isolate at home for the necessary 14+ days. The District will be nimble in making decisions to avoid the spread of infection.
If I am quarantined, will this affect my accumulated sick leave?
Should there be a mandatory school or classroom dismissal, or closure, employees will be placed on paid administrative leave. If the school is not mandatorily closed, your sick days may be used if you personally or a family member are ill, as per the contract. There are leave days available through the federal CARE Act, which allows up to ten days of paid leave for reasons of COVID-19 infection. This leave will supplement the leave provided by our contract. You also have unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act that is available. Any concerns or questions about leave, GEA will handle on a case-by-case basis, so keep us close.
I am worried about the lack of substitutes if I need to be home or become ill.
Without a doubt, substitutes will be scarce this year. Each school building will navigate the best way to handle these situations. This issue is still being discussed and worked through. GEA leadership is in discussions with the District to resolve this pending issue.
Can we make wearing face masks mandatory?
This question is before the Utah State Risk Management team of attorneys. Dr. Bates suggests that likely, the District will be given the option to mandate masks, but how this would be monitored and the remedy if employees and students refuse to comply is a bigger question. We will need to count on the good sense and responsibility of the student and staff body.
In closing, let us reiterate; the best laid plans may change in a moment depending on the viral nature of COVID-19 and mandates from the government for state or counties. Everything is in flux and planning for each eventual possibility is near impossible. Please continue to share your questions and concerns, and GEA will be diligent in passing these on to the District. Our main concerns are your health and the health and well-being of students. GEA is navigating the rough waters with you and we’re all keeping our heads above the water…barely!