When elementary special education teacher Brittany Gonzalez learned that her students would most likely be eating lunch in classrooms this year, a new social-distancing measure, she knew right away that she would need more supplies.
She started crowdfunding projects for silicone placemats that she could clean easily, and drying racks to store them and students' water bottles, which would need to be washed every day. She also wants to buy individually wrapped snacks for easier distribution and lunchboxes for students who may be bringing their food from home for the first time.
Gonzalez, who teaches in a self-contained classroom of 1st-3rd graders in Lehigh Acres, Fla., said in general, her school is thinking ahead—her administration plans to provide disposable masks for students and staff who return to in-person classes at the end of August. "If there is a safety-related need, they will do their best to help their staff attain it," she wrote, in response to Education Week.
But as a special education teacher, she said, "I will always need a few more unique or specialized supplies in my classroom." And those needs have only grown this year.
As some teachers prepare to return to school buildings, and with new requirements around social distancing, many are realizing that they will need more supplies than in back-to-school seasons past. If students can't share colored pencils or math manipulatives, classrooms will need extra sets. Teachers who have their students sit at communal tables are fundraising on DonorsChoose.org, a teacher crowdfunding site, for flexible seating or clear plastic dividers to place between kids.
When it comes to health and safety supplies—hand sanitizer, face masks, thermometers— districts are making bulk purchases to distribute across schools. AASA, the School Superintendents Association, estimates that altogether, school districts will spend almost $25 billion on personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies this fall .
But in many cases, it's less clear whether district money will cover all of the other new expenses teachers will encounter this year, like individual school supplies kits and extra class sets of books. And with school reopening dates drawing closer, teachers are starting to pay for them out of their own pockets, or post projects to classroom crowdfunding sites.
"Kindergarten is usually about sharing, collaborating and congregating [closely] during circle times. Unfortunately, for the safety of students, staff and educators, those practices need to change," wrote one California teacher, in a project description on DonorsChoose, requesting individual crayons, scissors, glue sticks, whiteboards for students.
"The thought of enforcing social distancing protocols with 5 year olds is a daunting task, but having these individual sets of supplies will help keep us safe and healthy," she wrote.
And even though schools are often generally providing PPE and sanitation supplies, some teachers are stocking up.
Christy Clark, a high school English teacher in Manatee County, Fla., said she was told her district would give teachers cleaning materials and hand sanitizer for their return to school buildings. Still, she's buying her own, too.
"I cannot always rely on things getting to me when I need them. It's a supply chain issue at this point," Clark said. "We all know that there's been a shortage of sanitizer and cleaning products."
She wants to make sure that she can protect her family if there's an issue getting the supplies to staff. If not, Clark said, having a personal store will free up more of the district's supply for younger and newer teachers, who may not be as able to buy these things on their own.
Clark has always bought some of her own classroom supplies. This year, she just added sanitizers and cleaners to the mix. "It's par for the course for teachers," she said.
Data from the spring suggest that teachers working remotely this fall could bear additional costs for materials, too.
In a June survey of teacher spending from AdoptAClassroom.org , a crowdfunding site, 74 percent of teachers said they bought home printing gear for distance learning with their own money, and 41 percent said they purchased mailing supplies to send materials to students. More than a third also bought new technology for their own homes.
Photo: First grade teacher Shannon Allen organizes school supplies at Aikahi Elementary School in Kailua, Hawaii July 28. (Jennifer Sinco Kelleher/AP)