Teachers in the Granite School District say they’re afraid to return to the classroom, but union officials say there’s not a ‘critical mass’ of support for a strike yet

Granite Schools 01

More than half of teachers surveyed in the Granite School District say there’s no amount of sanitation or personal protective equipment that would protect them from being infected with the coronavirus when in-person classes resume a week from Monday. 

The survey conducted by the Granite Education Association found 55 percent of teachers said there are no precautions that will adequately protect them from the coronavirus. 30 percent of teachers who responded said they would feel safe if the district follows through with proper ventilation in classes, enforcement of the mandatory face mask requirements and social distancing. 14 percent said nothing would make returning to classes safe, and the district should employ distance learning until Salt Lake County reaches a minimal number of positive daily coronavirus tests. 

“We sent a letter to the Granite School Board and superintendent saying most of the teachers are afraid and don’t feel the district’s plan provides adequately for teacher safety,” said Mike McDonough, President of the Granite Education Association.

McDonough said they also found that 80 percent of the teachers who responded to the survey said they were willing to participate in various actions to make their concerns known.

“Right now, a strike is not on the list,” said McDonough.

“A large majority of teachers said they wanted to do something, but there’s not a critical mass of teachers calling for a strike yet,” he added. 

Ben Horsley, spokesperson for the Granite School District pointed out that the survey results released by the GEA might be a bit misleading, as only 1,400 of the district’s 4,000 teachers responded to the questionnaire.

“We’re working every day to address the safety concerns of our teachers,” said Horsely. “We know we’ll need to modify plans as students return to class. 

In a letter to district officials and posted to the Granite Education Association website, McDonough pleaded for a more serious approach to teacher safety.

“Educators are afraid for their health and the health of their loved ones. We are said to be essential employees and are the only group of such workers asked to be sequestered in a room with 25+ people for several hours a day, every day,” he wrote.

“GEA is asking that educators’ fears and concerns be acknowledged and more so, addressed. Telling educators not to worry is not helpful. Providing sanitation materials is not enough. Show us that you take our concerns seriously. Make the difficult decisions necessary to protect all your employees, and students.”

Granite District, already struggling with a teacher shortage, has seen more than 30 teachers resign or retire since the district unveiled their plans to have students return to class on July 7. 

Those teachers who decided to leave their employment with the Granite District had to pay an extra penalty, as the district is enforcing a clause in their contract fining them $1,000 for failing to give 30 days of notice before leaving. 

The $1,000 fine was initially put into contracts to keep other districts from hiring teachers away from them on short notice. But, he says the fine is appropriate in this instance because the teachers are leaving schools shorthanded right before the start of the school year.

“Teachers had 6 days between the release of our back to school plan and the deadline to resign without penalty,” said Horsely. “The GEA did not request an extension of that time from us.”

Horsley said teachers also had the ability to request a leave of absence if they didn’t feel comfortable returning to the classroom, and many took advantage of that by the deadline. 

The district will fill many of the open teacher positions this year with substitute teachers and newly hired educators.

The district is implementing a full four day per week in-person class schedule for secondary students, while elementary students will be in class five days a week. The Granite Education Association is asking the district to drop the elementary schedule to only four days of in-person classes per week, and Horsely says that could happen.

“We are listening and empathize with the concerns the GEA has presented, and are taking under serious consideration the request for a four-day schedule for elementary schools based on their formal request,” he said.

The Granite School District begins classes on August 24.