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Puyallup students start returning to classrooms Tuesday, despite union concerns

"Which student and which staff do we want to lose," said the president the Puyallup Education Association, which represents teachers.

PUYALLUP, Wash. — Despite safety concerns raised by the Puyallup Education Association, 700 students will return to classrooms for in-person instruction Tuesday.

Union president Karen McNamara said the union was "extremely concerned" about returning children to class with the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise in Pierce County.

"Which student and which staff do we want to lose," said McNamara, who said her members are fearful of returning to work. 

Most of the students starting on Tuesday are special education students.

Over the weekend, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Director Anthony Chen tweeted that the county was experiencing a "post-Labor Day surge" in cases.

However, the rate of cases in Pierce County is still within the range that Chen and county officials consider safe enough for some in-person classroom activity.

The union also had also raised concerns about having enough personal protective equipment. The district provided each teacher with two cloth masks.

“They're telling us the cloth masks are sufficient," McNamara told KING 5 last week. "They provided each with two. We disagree, and we feel they need stronger PPE in some areas."

Kindergarten and first graders are slated to return next week in a hybrid learning model. Second- through sixth-graders are scheduled to return on Oct. 13. And middle and high school students could return by November.

The Puyallup district also told students they can continue remote learning. Nearly 70 teachers will continue to teach those students.

Tacoma schools had planned on starting kindergarten this week, but that plan was shelved indefinitely because of concerns over insufficient PPE.

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