‘I Felt Betrayed’

Becky Blommer Resigns After Feeling District Broke Its Promise


Peach Schilling

Becky Blommer talks to a group of her senior students on her last day of teaching at Highland.

Peach Schilling, Editor-In-Chief

“I love my students, but I am not willing to die for them.” 

This was one of the last things Becky Blommer, a now former Highland language arts teacher, said while packing up her classroom on Thursday, March 25 – her last day of teaching at the school. 

Blommer, who has an auto-immune disorder, just did not feel that she was safe teaching in person and made the decision to step away from Highland. She will be switching to a teaching position at an online-only school, where she believes she will feel much safer. 

But Blommer never wanted to have to make that decision and feels that the Salt Lake City School District did not live up to its promise to protect teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“All of a sudden, after being told how important we were, we were being told that we had to return without being vaccinated,” Blommer said. “I am still upset.”

Much deliberation occurred within the district over the summer about what the best plan was regarding a return to school. SLCSD told parents and teachers originally that schools would not open until the county was in the yellow, or low-risk, phase.  

Later in July, district officials stated that they would not open their schools until they reached a 5% positivity test rate within the county and only 10 cases per 100,000 people. Currently, Salt Lake county is at 11 cases per 100,000, so not yet at what the district originally wanted to meet. The positivity rate of tests, however, is currently 3.6%.

At the beginning of this school year, Salt Lake City School District was the only district in the state of Utah to remain teaching completely virtually. Although there were many mixed emotions about the decision, Blommer was very happy with the news.  

Blommer has been a familiar face to almost every student at Highland. Her constant smile will no longer be found, even though she always planned on retiring as a Ram. When the school district announced that the 2020-21 year would begin with students remaining home, Blommer no longer thought she needed to leave the profession, something she had thought about since the outbreak.

“When we heard we were going to be online, it was a big sigh of relief and I thought the administration had our backs,” Blommer said. “They kept telling us, ‘Your lives are going to be considered a priority over anything else.’”

She wishes she could still believe what she was told. 

After continuous pressure from not only students and parents within the district, but also from the Utah legislature, who said all in-person teachers would be given a $1,500 bonus (excluding SLCSD teachers at the time), the SLCSD board changed its return plan again.

The district got involved in a research study with the University of Utah to compare the risks of their schools to other schools throughout the state that were open. The data showed that there wasn’t a difference in risk found in elementary schools and middle schools, but there was an increased risk in high schools.

SLCSD then decided to open elementary schools part time in January, and later opened all schools on Feb. 9. None of their original requirements were met beforehand, and Salt Lake County still remains in the orange, high-risk phase.

Madden sent a message to teachers regarding the return on Thursday, Jan. 21 that stated, “Any employee required to work from a school district location must do so. Teachers and student support personnel assigned to provide in-person classes must be present in the school.” 

Blommer felt betrayed. 

“Highland is all I have ever known in my teaching career,” Blommer said. “The students in this community are wonderful and it’s all about [them]. That’s what I love about Highland.” 

Throughout the fall, Blommer was telling everyone how glad she was that she taught in the SLCSD. When she was told that she was required to return to the building without first being vaccinated, she didn’t understand and did not feel safe whatsoever. 

“Back in the fall, we didn’t know very much. We were having to make decisions based on the data that was available to us,” SLCSD interim superintendent Larry Madden said. “We tried to keep everyone safe, but it became clear after a while that those metrics were not what we should use.”

Madden said there was no way that the district could have been able to function without having teachers back in school. There was no other solution when returning to in-person learning, even though it was a difficult decision. 

The increased number of students who failed classes and failed to show up on Zoom lessons at all played a large role in making the decision, as did the mental health of students. Ultimately, the district felt that having teachers in the classroom was what was best for students, Madden said.

But that did not ease the concerns of Blommer.

When COVID hit hard in February of 2020, Blommer was the first to take precautions. 

“I heard a podcast from the New York Times about how horrific [COVID] is going to be,” Blommer said. “No one was talking about it, so I went and told [Highland teacher Emily] Paxton to listen.” 

After listening, they worked together and made a list of all of the things that they thought they needed to start storing at home in case a prolonged shutdown was imminent. Blommer then had a discussion with her husband, and she decided to get a substitute teacher and not risk getting sick at school.  

The last day of school before the closure was the next Friday.

When schools shut down, Blommer was thankful that people were realizing the importance of what was going on. She knew that this was not going to be easy, and a year later, it’s still not. 

During the pandemic, she started rethinking her teaching profession, but she stayed after what she felt was a promise to make things work. It was no easy feat, however.

Both her and her doctors talked to administration at the district level to request that she still work from home until she was fully vaccinated. It was turned down, so she went to the school itself. She was told her only option was filing for Family and Medical Leave Act.

After telling the district that FMLA was her plan, they told her that COVID concerns were not a legitimate reason and so her case would probably not pass, even considering her auto-immune disease. 

“I gave a list of options to [Highland principal] Jeremy Chatterton, including an option of hiring a substitute and not getting paid, but doing all of the curriculum,” Blommer said. 

Chatterton said that she had to return, based on what the district policy was, even as he tried to find a solution to keep Blommer from seeking alternative employment. There was no easy solution and no one wanted to feel as if they were putting teachers in danger, but the district believed the return to school was necessary. 

Considering her conditions, she refused and hired a substitute. She informed her students and parents of her decision and taught from home until she was fully vaccinated.  After receiving her final vaccine, Blommer returned to in-person learning for the final two weeks of third quarter before officially resigning.

“The general feeling when we came back into the building was frustration that we couldn’t wait until vaccines,” Chatterton said. “There were some teachers who didn’t feel safe coming back and we as administrators had to handle that.”