Puyallup teachers to report back to classrooms this fall

As reopening plans keep rolling out for schools, some districts want all of their teachers to report to the classroom in person. That is, even if all of their students will be learning virtually full-time from home.

The Puyallup School District will be transitioning all of its staff back to assigned buildings beginning this fall.

“It’s all about safety. It’s not that we wouldn’t all rather be back under normal circumstances. We all would. We all want that,” said Karen McNamara, President of the Puyallup Education Association (PEA).

McNamara started teaching in 1980 and has been serving the PEA as president or 12 years. The association represents more than 1,300 educators and is considered to be the 8th largest school district in the state.

“How do you keep yourself safe if you need to use the restroom down the hall? We’re being told we can’t go in the staff rooms, we can’t use the microwaves, can’t use the refrigerators because they’re all common areas we’re supposed to be staying out of, but how do you do that?” asked McNamara. “We wish they would just allow us to choose, and the people who didn’t feel comfortable can stay home. That would be less people in the building for those who do choose to come in.”

A school spokesperson said the district is focusing on how to best support students in a full-time distance learning model, and that it’s most efficiently done in classrooms, with instructional resources and technical support.

“This plan will also allow us to explore ways to offer in-person services to small groups of vulnerable students when school begins Sept. 3.  Most importantly, however, it will allow us time to practice strict health and safety measures prior to all students returning,” said Sarah Gillispie, Director of Communications and Public Engagement.

Both students and parents are wondering why it’s safe for staff to report to school, but not students.

“If we’re looking at safety here and it’s not safe for the kids to go back, it shouldn’t be safe for the teachers either,” said parent Heather Stoltzman.

“It’s kind of a bummer to me,” said student Geneva Bolar. “It’s my last year of high school too so I won’t probably get to see my friends as I normally would.”

The Tacoma Public School district is also having this very conversation. The district wants all of its staff to show up to assigned buildings in person. The Tacoma Education association is working to negotiate some flexibility.