Teachers, Students, and Staff are NOT Expendable

Teachers, Students, and Staff are NOT Expendable

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Summary

Governor Herbert, educators and parents of Utah need you. Parents, teachers, and students want schools to reopen full time, but need it done in a way that balances safety with education. We deserve safe schools. Parents should not have to choose between their child's physical health and their mental health in the upcoming school year, nor should teachers. 

  • Governor Herbert needs to accept responsibility for safe schools through clear directive.
  • All plans must include necessary safety precautions including enforced masking, appropriate flow of clean air through school HVAC systems, reasonable attempts at social distancing.
  • All plans must be approved by an independent panel of epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, and doctors who have treated this virus in both children and adults.
  • Allocate necessary funding to schools to accomplish required safety precautions in plans.  

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Why

  1. Governor Herbert needs to give a clear directive, as no other entity is willing to accept responsibility for the safety of our schools. School boards are afraid of the legal ramifications and parental backlash of making the decisions that best protect our teachers, staff, students, and their families. Board members across the state have said they will only follow direct orders by Governor Herbert. Relying on the current direction from the state, specifically Governor Herbert, it is left open to local interpretation (17:30). The Department of Health and Utah’s leadership is pushing the choice back to these local boards and no one wants to hold the responsibility when it’s not a mandate. They need this backing from the states. The economy relies on a stable education system. Economy and health are directly correlated. We can best support Utah’s economy by creating safe and stable schools. We’re counting on a school system that the economy will have confidence in. 
  2. Plans must include necessary safety precautions.
    1. Added 7/31/2020 No "modified quarantine" for students. We understand that teachers are hard to come by. We understand that teachers will be exposed to COVID in the classroom. We understand that teachers are essential employees. Students are NOT essential employees. To label children as such puts teachers in danger, because children are often asymptomatic and spread COVID very efficiently.  There should be no such thing as "modified quarantine" If students are too high-risk to eat in a restaurant or go to a mall, they should not be in an unventilated room within six feet of other students and teachers for 7 hours a day. 
    2. Enforced masking. Masks limit exposure to COVID 19, but only when everyone wears them. Despite our mandates, school districts are planning a soft enforcement (see timeline). You need to ensure that students are wearing masks in schools to protect others. N95 masks must be provided at the district’s expense for every teacher, every day that they have a student with a medical mask exemption in their class. Teachers are much more vulnerable to complications due to COVID-19 and you need to show them that they are not expendable to the state of Utah. 
    3. Clean Air Flow. HVAC systems are known to spread COVID. Schools intentionally have no open windows or doors for security, which further restricts air flow. This document is recommended by the CDC for workplace compliance. All schools should be CDC compliant prior to opening for public use.
    4. Distancing: Teachers and students want schools to be open. They want a safe option. While a blended option may be good for some families, for many, full time school is necessary. This is why the first two precautions (masking and air flow) are of utmost importance. Physical distancing should be a top goal in all areas of the school. While protecting those in school full time is the highest priority, a blended or online option to reduce bodies in the classroom may be appropriate for families who choose to accommodate a blended schedule. Parents and educators deserve this choice.
  3. As school boards across the state of Utah are making their reopening plans, important voices are being left out of the decision — epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, medical professionals who are treating cases, and researchers who are studying COVID-19. With these items implemented, Governor Herbert needs to require district plans be approved by an independent panel of specialists to ensure student and teacher safety. 
  4. With these requirements comes a need for additional funding to help put these policies in place. Utah needs to allocate funds to put these changes in place in all schools, without putting additional financial burden on teachers, parents, and districts.

Every student's life is valuable. They all deserve an equitable opportunity and a quality education. Every teacher deserves to be safe in their classroom, breathe clean air, and teach without fear.

This is an important decision vital to the safety of our state as schools penetrate all of our communities. An investment in properly reopening schools can have a huge impact on limiting viral spread, which can save lives, keep more people safe, and support our economy. As Utahns, we don’t shy away from these challenges or sacrifices — we can work together to provide our children the education they deserve as safely as possible. Governor Herbert needs to lead us and require the school boards work with experts and be held accountable for making the safe choices for schools in the state of Utah.

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Timeline:

School boards across the state of Utah this week began releasing their plans the week of July 6th for the return to school in August. Among most districts, there was a common thread: No mask enforcement in schools and full class sizes for 4-5 days a week, making social distancing impossible. (Jordan district, Davis district, Granite district, Canyons district, Alpine district, Murray district, Provo District. Weber and Nebo district have masks, but 5 day per week instruction, no social distancing). According to the CDC, this is the highest-risk scenario for the return to school this fall. Infectious disease and COVID experts were not invited to give input at these meetings, and the board relied entirely on Governor Herbert's instructions, put together with the State Board of Education, which contained minimal safety precautions.

  • June 25, 2020: Governor Herbert signs S.B. 5003, granting governmental immunity from suit due to COVID infections in government buildings, including schools.
  • Governor Herbert mandated masks throughout Salt Lake County on June 25, 2020. All of the board meetings that set a policy of "recommended but not required masking in school" took place after the county mask mandate (Davis and Utah County do not have a county mask mandate). Board members in all districts mentioned they were aware of the county mandate and still chose not to enforce mask wearing in schools.
  • June 26, 2020: Governor Herbert, one day after signing a bill of immunity for COVID transmission, sends the Planning Requirements and Recommendations for K-12 School Reopening document to school boards, with minimal safety requirements for students and teachers.
  • Jordan School Board: When questioned about the mask mandate not being enforced in schools, Bryce Dunford, president of Jordan School Board, stated, "We were given instructions by the governor that we were to require masks on the bus, but not deny anyone a ride who didn't have a mask." "If a student is not wearing a mask, they won't be denied an education" (July 7, 2020 6:51).
  • Jordan School Board: Darrell Robinson, also on the Jordan School Board, said, "Right now, Salt Lake County, has a - you should wear a mask - but it's a soft enforcement, so we would kind of mirror a similar - a similar policy in our schools." (July 7, 2020 6:30)
  • Governor Herbert made a state-wide mask mandate for K-12 schools on July 9, 2020. However, there's no reason to believe that mask wearing will be enforced in any schools due to the fact that a county order was already in place at the time of the boards' decisions. Governor Herbert needs to tell school boards that mask wearing must be enforced in schools, due to the extended time students will be in an enclosed space.
  • On July 10, 2020, a group of medical administrators and infectious disease physicians held a press conference to discuss the current spread of COVID in Utah, and the importance of masks and social distancing to curb the spread. At this conference, Dr. Arlen Jarrett, Chief Medical Officer of Steward Health Care said, “I would certainly hope and expect that the schools will take... if we do reconvene students in the classroom, that they would be able to have the resources, the tools at their fingertips, to socially distance and to do the things we are asking people to do right now. I know it’s difficult for children to wear masks, to stay apart from each other, that will always be a challenge, but we can do our best and make our efforts, be guided by what we know about how this disease is spread. We know children can get and spread this disease.” (30:16) Dr. Miller, Chief Medical Officer at the University of Utah, added, "Also to protect our teachers".
  • July 16, 2020: Governor Herbert went live and two important things came out of it.
    • First, "Common sense for those with disabilities, that may make it awkward or difficult for them to wear a mask. Deaf, hard of hearing examples. Again, we would encourage our teachers to wear clear face shields because people, the students need to see their facial expressions. Again if you’re a deaf, being able to read lips…” It is important the governor know that the CDC does not recommend face shields as a measure to protect others. The governor in this quote is advocating for a method that will enable teachers of special needs students to use a face shield rather than a mask to interact with their students, enabling the teacher to spread respiratory droplets in these classrooms. Clear masks would be a much better alternative, and would follow science better for classrooms where lip reading is necessary. The CDC does recommend face masks as a measure to protect the wearer, but not all districts are providing them for teachers. The governor needs to read the CDC recommendations regarding face masks and make sure every teacher has one to protect him/herself, and wears a mask to protect his/her students.
    • Second, “As you all know, right now, the state of Utah is virtually all in green, mostly in yellow. The exception to that is in Salt Lake City, which is in orange. We are going to make a modification to orange guidelines to accommodate Salt Lake City School District and those schools which are found inside the Salt Lake City limits. So that they also can open up, and have every opportunity that the other districts and other schools in Salt Lake county have by virtue of being in yellow. So that modification will in fact allow them, and hopefully our capital city, we would hope, over the next few days, few weeks, will be able to move from orange to yellow.”(20:45) This shows that the governor has no regard for the spread of COVID-19 through Salt Lake County, as he thinks that schools are somehow disconnected from the greater community. This shows that the "color code" is really arbitrary, not based on data, infection rate, or anything else, and the #1 goal is to cram kids into schools in just a few short weeks, with COVID cases soaring across the state.
  • July 17, 2020 News broke that the White House, and Centers for Public Integrity, have Utah listed as a "red zone" for COVID-19, as our infection rates are higher than 100 cases per capita. This directly contradicts Gov. Herbert's claim that most of the state is yellow or green, as the federal government considers us red.
  • Also July 17, 2020 the Governor's list of mask exemptions was published in local news. Students with any kind of medical, mental, or other random inability to wear masks is cause for exemption. This directly contradicts the governor's mandate for masking, as it will be very easy for parents to claim some sort of (real or imagined) mask exemption for their child. The state needs to provide an N95 mask, per this petition, for every teacher with a mask exempt student in their classroom, every day the child is in school. Teachers must be protected from students not wearing masks, whether the exemption is real or imagined.  
  • July 30, 2020 - Modified Quarantine document released - This document states that children exposed to COVID are considered essential workers and can not go to the mall, to the grocery store, to the movies, because they are quarantined and at risk of exposing others. They can, however, attend school. Teachers are also considered essential and can continue to work in a confined, unventilated space around 30+ children until they show symptoms. Read the document here. No other states have implemented a "modified quarantine". Because it is a terrible idea.
  • August 6, 2020 - Modified Quarantine removed from schools document You can read the updated document here. Students will be required to quarantine as normal when exposed to COVID.

The CDC recommends social distancing, staggered schedules, and rotating between smaller class sizes to minimize the spread within schools. They also have recommendations on HVAC for workplace compliance. Due to difficulties Utah already had managing class size, the document Governor Herbert provided to all school districts did not address class size at all. In fact, it recommends face coverings when students are within 6 feet of one another (meaning all the time, with the size of Utah's classrooms and number of students). Face coverings are not required (only recommended) and there are no guidelines to accommodate a safe social distance between students. Despite recommendations from both the CDC and healthcare experts within Utah, this has not been mentioned in any of the above-mentioned districts' reopening plans.