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Study Gives Utah An ‘F’ For Protecting Teachers During Pandemic

Sep 4, 2020, 11:16 AM | Updated: 11:17 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A new study has accused Utah of failing to protect teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study, from the insurance comparison shopping site Insurfy, looked at public school infrastructure; factors affecting teachers such as salary, age, and union influence; health care; and daily COVID-19 case counts.

Based on those factors, the study gave Utah an F grade, with the biggest concerns being crowded classrooms and below average school spending.

However, it’s important to note the study did credit the state with having above average health care quality and teacher union strength.

Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said COVID-19 only made these historical issues worse and the disparities for teachers vary from district to district.

“It’s a different ball of wax in one district to the next district,” she said. “As the labor organization for educators to Utah, we believe an injustice to one is an injustice to all,and we have places where there is an injustice,” Matthew said.

State leaders said they recognize the concerns with coronavirus, but having kids in the classroom is worth fighting for.

“We understand that the flexibility we’re asking for puts a huge burden on families, on teachers, on district administrators,” said Tami Pyfer, education adviser to Gov. Gary Herbert. “But we believe in the benefits of in-person learning.”

According to the study, teachers are feeling the brunt of inadequate teaching conditions. That may be an indicating factor of why 79 teachers retired or resigned in Salt Lake County as of Aug. 21.

Sue Laver is one such teacher. Laver taught at the same elementary school her entire career, teaching grades two – five.

“I’ve always really loved kids and loved being around them,” Laver said as she looked through years worth of class pictures with her students.

Laver said she and her students managed as best they could when the pandemic abruptly forced learning online during the spring.

“Teachers worked really hard,” she said. “We did the best we could.”

Along with her students, she said she was hopeful things would be better in the fall.

“My classroom was set up. I was ready to go,” Laver said.

All that was left were the school reopening guidelines under COVID-19, which were made available in June.

“They said they were going to clean more and provide masks for people who didn’t have masks,” Laver said. “ I thought, ‘That’s it, that’s all you’re going to do? That’s not enough.’”

She said she was hoping for more guidance, resources, and social distancing measures in the classroom.

“I thought, ‘How do I put 30 kids 6 feet apart inside these classrooms?’” she said.

Laver said she’s at a higher risk for the virus  due to her age and a health condition.

“I was very torn for weeks, months, really not being able to sleep, weighing my options on what to do,” she said.

Ultimately, Laver felt early retirement was the best option for her health and family.

“It was heartbreaking,” she said, “Thirty-six years worth of memories that were there. I wasn’t able to say goodbye to any colleagues or any students.”

Laver said she feels the school and district did what they could to help teachers, but it wasn’t enough.  She said the state legislature could do more like tapping into the rainy day fund to give schools more financial resources.

“If this isn’t a rainy day, I don’t know what is,” she said.

KSL TV reached out to The Utah State Board of Education for its figures on teacher retirements and resignations.

Those figures indicate teacher retirements increased from 530 in 2018-19 to 631 in 2019-20. However, numbers indicate fewer teachers resigned during the same time period. In 2018-19, 324 educators resigned versus the 236 who resigned in 2019-20.

The state board defines resignations as “educators leaving the profession as opposed to moving schools, or districts, or to district offices, etc.”

State figures also do not account for anyone who resigned or retired after June 30. Those numbers will be factored into next year’s statistics.

KSL TV also reached out to four other Salt Lake County School Districts.

Salt Lake City

The Salt Lake City School District has seen 17 teachers resign or retire since March. There were 19 teachers who resigned or retired at the same time last year.

According to district spokesperson Yandary Chatwin, the district hasn’t experienced mass retirements or resignations. That has been attributed to the district being the only one in the state to start the school year remotely.

Jordan

The Jordan School District reported that between March and September, there have been 103 retirements and 205 resignations. For the same period in 2019, the district saw 105 retirements and 298 resignations.

Canyons

Since a special COVID-19 resignation window of seven days opened in July, the Canyons School District had a total of 25 resignations, including 22 teachers.

District officials could not comment on the reasons for those resignations.

“It may well be as a result of COVID-19, but that cannot be said for certain,” said district spokesperson Jeffrey Haney.

Granite

Granite School District reported that 17 teachers made retirement requests after February, and 46 teachers resigned after July 13.

“The district didn’t disaggregate based on reason, but it is assumed that most are COVID related,” said district spokesperson Ben Horsley.

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Study Gives Utah An ‘F’ For Protecting Teachers During Pandemic