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Some Utah teachers still frustrated at lack of PPE from state

SALT LAKE, Utah – With classes already starting, many teachers say they’re not getting enough personal protective equipment, PPE, from the state to limit the spread of COVID-19.  Some educators say there are still some school districts that need to step up their efforts to provide adequate gear.

One teacher wrote to KSL, saying the five masks they received from the state don’t really offer much security.  They say the masks are disposable and the packaging says they’re not to be used for more than four hours, plus, they can’t be re-used. 

(A box containing masks given by the state to teachers across Utah. Credit: Jay Dortzback, KSL TV)

The teacher wrote, “So the state essentially gave teachers 20 hours of protection for the year.”

While this might not seem like much to many people, Utah Education President Heidi Matthews says many teachers are grateful to get any kind of protection.  She says the state wasn’t supposed to provide the bulk of the PPE because the individual school districts were in charge of that.  Matthews reported there are several districts that have established good re-opening plans, but there are others that are lacking.

Matthews says, “In some areas, there is an extreme discomfort and weariness about returning to school in a face-to-face environment.”

It isn’t just the PPE for Utah teachers that concerns Matthews.  She says many districts need to tighten their rules on reopening.  In some cases, things that are required by the state are only “recommended” by districts.  She believes the Utah Department of Health needs to weigh in on each district policy before they’re put into effect, and the state needs a better way to ensure compliance.

“What is the process by which concerns are going to be shared about inadequate physical distancing?  Inadequate PPE?” she asks.

In the Jordan School District, they recently approved a measure giving teachers $500 to buy whatever kind of protective equipment they need.  District Board of education President Bryce Dunford says teachers were given time to look over their classrooms to strategize for the upcoming year, and many of them felt they’d be vulnerable to disease without extra gear.

Dunford says, “A lot of our teachers were going out and, at their own expense with their own funds, buying equipment to make them feel more comfortable in the classroom.  We got wind of that, and we’re not comfortable with that.”

Some teachers even built their own devices to prevent the spread of the virus.  Dunford says one kindergarten teacher created a makeshift wall to place between students sitting at a round table.

“It was a plexiglass shield between where the students were seated so [the teacher] could keep them isolated,” Dunford says.

The money offered by the district doesn’t have to go toward traditional PPE items like gloves, masks, and plexiglass.  Dunford says some teachers spent the money on improved filters for the air conditioning system while others spent it on supplies so the kids wouldn’t have to share.