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Puyallup teacher's union raises PPE concerns as students return to class

Puyallup teachers will be in class to prepare on Monday in order to welcome special education students on Tuesday.

PUYALLUP, Wash — Some Puyallup teachers will be back in their classrooms Monday as they prepare for the return of special education students.

Those students will head back to the classroom Tuesday, but the union that represents the more than 1,400 teachers in the district said they have some concerns about returning students and staff to classrooms.

“We are very concerned about the (personal protective equipment), and that's a concern that we had on Friday," said Puyallup Education Association President Karen McNamara. "There has been some emailing back and forth this weekend."

Teachers will be in the classroom on Monday without students, but the union wants to make sure all the pieces are in place to keep everyone safe, which includes making sure there is enough personal protective equipment.

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

Kindergarten and first graders are supposed to return this week in a hybrid learning model, while second through sixth graders return on Oct. 13.

“Our biggest concern is the numbers in Pierce County are rising, and you know, I think it's going to be hard on everyone, not only our staff but our students and families if we start back and we have to pull back again,” said McNamara. “I've told our district we don't have to be number one.”

They are engaging with the State Department of Labor and Industries and the health department to make sure the return is safe for staff and the students.

On Friday, district representatives said they have worked hard to prepare for the return of the special education students.

“We are confident that we've done our due diligence in working with state agencies to make sure that we're able to return students to in-person instruction as safely as possible,” said District Communications Director Sarah Gillispie.

The district told students they can continue remote learning if they have concerns, and 69 teachers will continue to teach those students. 

Tacoma recently backtracked on plans to re-open their schools amid concerns over PPE.

Click here to see updates on Puyallup's plans for returning to in-person learning.