Teachers get an extra $500 for protective equipment in Jordan School District

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Amy Harvey, a teacher at Heartland Elementary, joined other teachers and parents holding signs calling for a safe plan on reopening schools prior to a Jordan School District board meeting in Riverton on Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

Teachers in Jordan School District will be given an extra $500 each to buy masks, sanitizer and any additional protective equipment they need before returning to the classroom next week.

The move comes after educators across the state had expressed concerns that they didn’t have enough supplies for the school year — including the PPE promised by the state. Some said that they’d resorted to buying their own soap and shields.

“They didn’t feel comfortable, and that was legitimate,” said Bryce Dunford, president of Jordan District’s board of education. “We got wind of that. … And we want to take care of our teachers.”

On Tuesday, the board voted to give all educators who will instruct in person this fall an additional stipend to purchase anything they felt they were missing. The district has provided cleaning products, rags and cloth masks, as well as some Plexiglas. And the state has promised each educator five KN95 masks and two plastic face shields (though there have been delays in shipping those).

Still, Dunford said he’s seen educators spending their own money to get extra disinfectants, as well as to make barriers for student desks.

While district spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said the creativity is appreciated, the board felt strongly that teachers shouldn’t have to reach into their own pockets to get what they need. The $500, she added, can reimburse what they’ve already spent or help them afford anything else.

“They are to use that as they see fit,” she said.

There are about 3,000 teachers in the district, with roughly 300 electing to teach online. While those remote educators won’t get the money for supplies, those in the elementary schools will get a separate stipend for developing virtual education programs.

Additionally, each school also will be granted $10 per student who attends in-person classes, to be used to make non-classroom personnel — secretaries, cafeteria workers, counselors, social workers — safe as well. A school with 100 kids attending, for instance, would get $1,000. That could be spent to make barriers around front desks or in lunch lines.

“So if I’m in the building, but I’m not in a classroom, I don’t have to feel like I am shortchanged,” Dunford said. “It’s not just classroom teachers, it’s everyone in the building. We want to make sure people feel safe.”

The total cost for the stipends will be about $1.5 million. It does not come out of the CARES Act funding provided by the federal government, but instead from the district’s reserve, Dunford clarified.

“We felt like the safety of our teachers was a very high priority and just something that they needed,” he said. “If they feel safe, they’ll teach with more confidence and kids will have a better experience.”

Expenditures must be COVID-19 related, “but we basically said, ‘Anything that will make you feel safer in the classroom, even if that means supplies to avoid sharing.”

For example, that could include buying enough glue sticks so every child in a kindergarten class could have one and not have to share with other students. “If it’s something that makes you uncomfortable safety-wise, then go ahead and purchase it. That was the only stipulation,” Dunford added.

Parents and teachers have been concerned about returning to the classroom. The hope is that this program helps alleviate some of that.

The board president said: “We just came to the conclusion that no one knows better what is needed for the classroom than the teachers themselves.”