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Utah News

Utah School Workers: Safety Measures Needed To Reopen

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School bus drivers say it's difficult for them to prevent close contact between themselves and their students on their daily routes.

As Utah school districts work to meet an August 1st deadline to develop plans to reopen this fall, teachers and support staff say safety measures must be in place to protect them from COVID-19.

"More than half of our drivers are high-risk just due to age. A lot of our drivers have asthma and other underlying conditions that also make them susceptible. So, it does put us in a really frightening situation," said Ben Rowley, who is with the school bus drivers' union in the Salt Lake City School District.

Utah educators and support staff, like Rowley, are in need of safety measures and protective equipment as they prepare to welcome students back next month.

However, before districts can be supplied with an estimated 2 million dollars to pay for protective equipment and classroom alterations, the U.S. Senate must approve a new stimulus package, which members only began debating last week.

Although House members passed a 3 trillion dollar stimulus measure called the HEROES Act in late May, the Senate still has to act. Lawmakers say they hope to finalize a bill by the end of the month.

Rowley said while some safety measures can be taken to protect drivers, school buses are a poor environment to prevent the spread of a virus.

"When we have traffic stopped, we can't really take the time to take the temperature of every student who gets on,” said Rowley. ”So, we have to just let them board. In the meantime, if you do have a student with a temperature or something, then you've got that time that they're on the vehicle."

 

He said state officials have issued an exemption so Salt Lake City schools can reopen, despite many of the city's neighborhoods having high rates of COVID-19.

 

"I'm really concerned because we are in such a high-risk area that we're going to have large infections break out within the schools and then just have to close again, and then it's going to be that much harder to get the schools reopened," said Rowley.

 

American Federation of Teachers guidelines say school districts should hold off on reopening until new COVID-19 cases have dropped for at least two consecutive weeks.