MURRAY — While it applauds Gov. Gary Herbert's statewide mask mandate, limits on social gatherings and two-week pause on extracurricular activities, the Utah Education Association said the governor's emergency orders don't go far enough and ignore the teacher union's call to move some secondary schools online.
"There is a distinct contradiction in calling for limits to social gatherings while our public schools continue with class sizes among the largest in the country," said a statement from UEA President Heidi Matthews.
On Friday, the UEA called on the governor and local school boards to move public secondary schools in areas with high transmission of COVID-19 to at-home, online instruction through at least Winter Break.
"Current strategies to address COVID-19 in Utah are clearly not working," the UEA said in a statement. "We are now seeing multiple schools repeatedly shift back and forth from in-person to at-home learning due to outbreaks."
Those interruptions are not benefiting students and adding to the workload of teachers, the UEA said.
After the UEA made the request, Herbert's office said it was grateful for the "straightforward input."
"The health and safety of Utah's teachers is a high priority, and we are currently reviewing steps the State of Utah can take to protect them in this pandemic," read the statement from the governor's office. "We will take their recommendations under advisement, in close consultation with the Utah Department of Health."
Matthews said she was confused and concerned when the governor announced his new health directives Sunday evening.
"I'm very frustrated with this idea of just going and going until we have to shut down — and by shut down, I mean moving to remote learning," Matthews said. "We've got to be proactive."
The UEA said if the governor doesn't take action to move secondary schools online, local school boards should take the responsibility to do so.
On Monday, state leaders said they are working on expanding testing for K-12 students, starting with those involved in extracurricular activities.
"Our data is showing that students don't tend to be infected actually in the school setting, but rather in the extracurricular setting, and so we want to make sure we can provide a safe environment for students to continuously engage in those extracurricular activities and testing will be part of that," said state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.