Teachers concerned about PPE, health risks as schools reopen

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FILE – In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020, file photo, custodial staffer Hortensia Salinas uses an Electrostatic Clorox Sprayer to spray disinfectant in a classroom at Brownsville Early College High School in Brownsville, Texas. Closing schools to combat the spread of the coronavirus is having a sweeping impact on an annual rite of spring: the standardized tests that are dreaded by millions of students and teachers alike. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – As parents juggle options for sending their children back to school this month, teachers are facing their most uncertain year ever.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers, a union representing teachers in several Miami Valley school districts, told WDTN.com there are concerns that districts aren’t providing enough personal protective equipment to teachers and that they’ll continue to be highly exposed to a community spread from the number of students coming through the schools.

According to a survey the OFT recently conducted, nearly half of teachers surveyed said they were concerned their districts wouldn’t have masks and sanitizer available for staff. Thirty-six percent of teachers surveyed said their district should go to full-time distance learning until COVID-19 cases significantly decline, while another 30 percent said their districts should do full-time distance learning through the fall semester.

“These are widespread concerns,” Melissa Cropper, President of the OFT told WDTN.com in a statement on Thursday. “In many school districts, our members are using their union voice to push for access to PPE and other standards, like strict physical distancing, to keep our schools as safe as possible when they re-open.”

The survey said 35-percent of teachers were in a high-risk group for COVID-19 infection. another 47 percent said they had a family or household member who was in the high-risk group.

While the majority of teachers would like to see schools stick to distance learning during the outbreak, they aren’t dedicated to its over the long term. Sixty-five percent of teachers are worried about income disparities that become exasperated when students are not in the classroom and have to learn from home. Sixty-two percent were most concerned with the social and emotional impact it would have on students.

WDTN.com sent emails to public schools in Montgomery, Miami and Greene counties. Five districts responded with their plans on what they will provide teachers as far as PPE during the school year.

Brookville

“Every teacher has received a face mask and a shield and we are putting what we’re calling a disinfectant basket in every classroom. In there, they have bottles of disinfectant spray, paper towels, hand sanitizer and a small supply of extra masks and gloves in case they would need them. If they would need them, we would provide more face masks.” – Tim Hopkins, Superintendent of Brookville Local Schools

Centerville

“Even though we are starting the school year in a remote learning environment, our teachers and support staff are still working in our school buildings. We have provided hand sanitizer, disinfectant, paper towels and gloves. We also overlapped day shift and second shift custodians to allow more custodians in the building during the school day.

“Staff members are using their own facemasks, although we have extra face masks available in each building if someone forgets to bring one. We also have face shields for every staff member available in each building.” – Sarah Swan, Community Relations Specialist for Centerville City Schools

Dayton

“All Dayton Public Schools staff members either have already received or will receive (teachers return Aug. 24) a face mask and a face shield. Additionally, hand sanitizer has been made available in multiple locations in all buildings and next to every timeclock.” – Alexandra Kincaid, Dayton Public Schools Public Information Office

Northmont

“Northmont purchased two cloth masks for each staff member and they are washable. The district did purchase enough disposable masks for students attending daily, but they are encouraged to bring their own face coverings.

“The district purchased hand sanitizer dispenser stands – 46 were placed in building common areas and most of our classrooms have hand washing sinks in the classroom. The district purchased bulk hand sanitizer – four 55-gallon drums have been delivered to supply and refill hand-held bottles for staff in all of our buildings. Every classroom, office, etc., received a bottle of spray cleaner and rags to disinfect areas after use.” – Tony Thomas, Superintendent Northmont City Schools

Oakwood

“Each classroom will be supplied with a spray bottle with 70 percent alcohol mixture, one box of dry towels, gloves, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes as needed. Service staff will check supplies each night and teachers can request additional supplies through our online maintenance request system.

“Staff members will be supplying their own facemasks. Shields are available for those who want to wear one in addition to their masks. We ask staff members at the end of the day and wash reusable masks each day.” Community Relations Director, Traci Hale Oakwood City Schools

Teachers working with administrations on PPE

WDTN.com was told by the OFT that many teachers and union reps are currently in talks with school administrations about getting more PPE for staff. The union said it plans to hold administrations responsible if teachers aren’t issued proper PPE.

“If school districts fall short, our members plan to hold them accountable,” Cropper stated. “Either through our grievance process, by reporting them to their county health department or to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or by taking collective action.”

For information on protecting yourself against the COVID-19 virus, visit the Ohio Department of Health website.

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