Utah teacher expresses concerns over returning to classrooms during COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus Updates

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Utah, some teachers are weighing the risks of going back to in-person teaching.

“I don’t feel like my voice is being heard, listened to, or valued,” a teacher told ABC4’s Brittany Johnson.

ABC4 agreed to conceal the Granite School District Teacher’s identity to protect their job.

The teacher said they are skeptical about how safe it is for schools to reopen in the fall and wish classes would remain solely online.

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“We’re going to be exposed all day long to kids who could or could not have the virus.”

The teacher, who has underlying health conditions, said the concerns among school officials are multifaceted.

“I’m in the high risk category. I have, for four-and-a-half months, sequestered myself in my house, not because I’m afraid but because I’m wise. And I know that the health problems that I have, if I get this, I could die.”

Sanitation

“The only directive from the district that I’ve seen is that we will be the ones doing sanitizing. We will sanitize at lunchtime. We’re supposed to do throughout the day, things like the doorknob, but leave your door open. Students will be in charge of sanitizing their own space. So I’m going to trust seven-year-olds to clean up their space well enough to not spread anything from their desk which is a bit of a concern. Other than that, the custodian is going to make sure that the lunchroom, which I’m being told at this time, will be guaranteed six feet apart. Although I don’t know how they’re going to do that unless they change some of the lunch schedules at our school. We have a separate gym. So they’re going to do gym at a lunchroom, and then the lunchroom as a lunchroom. And the custodian is somehow supposed to make sure that he sanitizes all of that very well before the next grade level comes in, which is usually about 15 to 20 minutes before the next one comes. So I don’t know.”

“What I’ve been told is that we will be equipped with sanitizer from the district, we will have an option of having plexiglas put in our room around our desk or small group area. But that was an option and they were just trying to see what people wanted.”

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“Sanitizer, face masks, they’ll provide one per child. And that’s great as long as the child always brings it back or you make sure it can be reused, although I’m not sure that it’s really the disposable kind should be reused.”

“Those germs are going to be there. Elementary school kids coughing in your face, they say they’re sorry. They don’t mean to, you know, they can’t help it. They touch each other. That’s what they do. That’s their age. And so I’m highly concerned that there’s no way to properly make sure that they’re safe in my classroom.”

Social distancing

“I feel like because there is no way we can possibly social distance at a distance of six feet, and that their health will be in jeopardy, and they’ll take that home as well, and put their parents in jeopardy.”

Teaching in-person and online classes

“It means a lot for teachers if teachers have to do that concurrently, both at the same time. I don’t possibly know how I could even do that. Last year, when we went online in quarter four, I spent eight to 10 hours every day preparing materials, gathering things, grading, and helping with problems that parents have. And so I don’t know how I could possibly do that after a full day of teaching. If the case becomes that we’re going to not do it that way and that some students might be taught in class and the other students will be taught at home by a teacher who has that ability to teach online-only, and separate those two — that’s what I’m hearing last night at the board meeting. But every indication I’ve gotten from the district does not say that including an indication I got today.”

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Substitute teachers

“There’s no way there’s going to be substitute teachers. I can’t see how you can possibly ask a substitute to come in and pick up whatever it is you were doing because so much of it is things you’ve created of your own. And if you had to, it’s not teaching out of a book anymore. If you’re going online, there’s a lot more nuances to it that you need to have in elementary school programs for kids to see that will keep their attention, and you do different things. I don’t know how we’ll get a substitute when we’re sick. I don’t know how if we end up getting the virus — the questions of that are even worse. Will, they shut down with just my class? Will those kids who have other siblings, will they shut down their classes? How will we notify parents? Will we be notified whether or not because of HIPAA concerns? There are times that we’ve not been notified when something has happened. I think we will be here so I feel confident with that. But I’m worried that you can’t just do both. There’s not going to be a substitute. I don’t know why they would even want to come in for what they’re paid.”

Balancing the concerns of parents who want school to “go back to normal”

“I understand that they want things as they’ve always been, and every teacher out there wants things as they’ve always been. It’s not the world that we live in. I want for students to be able to be safe when they come into my classroom, and I want to know that they’re safe outside of my classroom, and I won’t be exposed. I know it seems like it’s a long time. That was the long end of the school year. And this would be a long beginning first term. I just, in the big picture of things, this little bit of time of them not being able to go back to school will affect them because in many ways they’ll see things differently because of it. But it’s also such a small portion of time. That is, if you lost your child, and this time, they would have said those months would have been worth not going to school and not putting my child at risk. I wish they’d look big picture and see, they’ll be okay. It will be okay. If a year from now even they go back to school it will not be irreparable damage.”

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“I want to tell parents that we love their kids and we are always wanting what’s best for them. We put them ahead of our own family many times. In this case, we need to make sure that you put them ahead of your job, ahead of your work, ahead of people who want you to do things for people who don’t believe in things. I love my students and I want them to be safe. I can teach them adequately online. It’s not as good as being in the classroom. Nothing can touch being in a classroom, but it’s a good second, and it’s a safe second.”

Voices not being heard

“I don’t feel like my voice is being heard, listened to, and valued. I think there are certain people who do. Only one of the board members last night at the meeting, Todd zinger was putting forth the issue that I think most teachers support. The other ones were not, and that’s OK. Everybody has different constituents. This is not a matter of getting to your job. This is your kids lives. And it’s also your teachers lives and there are many teachers who are in the same spot as me that are high risk. I depend on my job for my insurance so that I can afford to live. I can’t just leave it because I know it’s going to be riskier for me. I’ll have no choice but to attend.”

Ben Horsley, Director, Communications & Community Outreach for Granite School District, emailed ABC4 News the following statement:

The Granite Board of Education and District administration care about each and everyone of our employees. We have spent the last several weeks developing strategies and plans to ensure the safety of all of our students and employees in anticipation of re-starting school in August. Employees with underlying conditions or other health concerns have options, and we have encouraged them to reach out to our Human Resources and benefits department for more information on how we can work to keep them safe.”

Brittany Johnson
Brittany prides herself on seeking the truth about everyday issues in the community and providing citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions.
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