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Utah Teachers Say They Don't Have Enough PPE, State Says It's Coming

Photo of cleaning supplies in a classroom.
Lincoln Beddoe
Utah State Board of Education officials said they’ve set aside a little over $3.5 million to buy protective equipment and cleaning supplies for public schools, in addition to federal relief funds that went directly to local districts.";

As districts in Utah gear up for reopening over the next two weeks, some teachers are expressing concerns that they won’t have enough protective equipment and cleaning supplies to keep their classrooms safe. 

The issue came up in a public education appropriations subcommittee hearing Monday, as officials from the Utah State Board of Education described their efforts to buy and distribute supplies to the state’s K-12 public schools. It’s also been a sticking point in several recent rallies, in which teachers have called on district officials to delay reopening until more safety measures are in place.

“My schools will start on the 24th — that's a week away — and we're very nervous about what we're going to be receiving,” said Rep. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, who is also a teacher in the Granite School District. 

Riebe said she, and other teachers she’s heard from, have yet to receive much of the supplies they’ve been promised. 

But Sarah Young, State Board of Education’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, said she got word from Reibe’s district that it had enough personal protective equipment, and should be getting additional supplies over the next week. 

She noted the state set aside a little over $3.5 million to buy protective equipment and cleaning supplies, focusing in particular on items that have been especially hard to get — such as non-contact thermometers and hand sanitizer.

Many supplies, though, have faced logistical hurdles, as high demand nationwide and global shipping routes cause delays. Young said the board bought about 200,000 packets of disinfectant wipes, but because they’re flammable and had to travel by boat, they’re not expected to arrive until mid-September. 

Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday that teachers who have not received supplies yet should work with their administrators. He noted the state is also distributing two face shields and five KN95 masks to each teacher, which have already been given to districts. 

Local districts have also been working on securing materials of their own, using federal coronavirus relief funds and, at times, dipping into their own budgets. That money, however, has also had to go to other pandemic-related expenses, such as training and overtime for custodial staff, mental health counseling for students and buying new computers and internet hotspots.

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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