John Arthur: Educators literally put their lives on the line

Remember paraeducator Eddye Valenzuela, who died of COVID-19.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Meadowlark Elementary School teacher John Arthur interacting with his students on Zoom, in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. Arthur is working through the kinks of teaching his 6th grade kids, many of which don't have internet access, online. He was named the Utah Teacher of the Year.

Eddye Valenzuela, a beloved paraeducator in the Salt Lake City School District, died last week from COVID-19.

Mr. V. spent most of his career at Glendale Middle School, where he touched the lives of countless students and their families. He tutored and mentored kids throughout this pandemic, supporting students with special needs at West High School. Talking with those who knew him, I keep hearing the same thing: I wish I could thank him for everything, one more time.

In an historic move, the Utah Legislature announced last month that it will recognize all of Utah’s incredible school workers — paraeducators like Eddye, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, etc. — for their service to students by awarding each of them a $1,000 bonus, as well as a $1,500 for teachers.

Legislative leadership then quickly added that the bonus would indeed go out to everyone…except employees of the Salt Lake City School District. However, if the city’s Board of Education would agree to reopen its middle and high schools to all students, then its workers would receive their bonuses; if not, then no.

It was wrong, and it sucked all the fun out of what should have been a joyful, holiday miracle.

On Jan. 5, the school board voted to keep its middle and high school students learning remotely until teachers and staff are vaccinated against the Corona virus. The next day, legislative leadership confirmed that, through no fault of their own, Salt Lake City’s hardworking bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and paraeducators would be excluded from receiving their bonus.

These big-hearted people have shown up to school every single day during the pandemic, putting their health at risk to feed our children, clean up after them, help little kids sound out big words, and deliver them safely to and from school. It is a thankless job — literally, kids forget to say thank you all the time — and now these schoolhouse heroes are being denied access to the only significant recognition they’re ever likely to receive for the critical work they do.

Thankfully, legislators will have the opportunity to right this wrong and award the $1,000 bonus to Salt Lake’s fantastic school workers along with everyone else during their upcoming session. And when they do, I hope they send Eddye’s $1,000 to his family in Peru.

He more than earned it.

Thank you, Mr. V., for everything.

John Arthur | 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year

John Arthur, Bluffdale, teaches sixth grade at Meadowlark Elementary in Salt Lake City, and is the 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year.

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