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Back to Class? KSL Has Pandemic School Plans From Across The State

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – School starts in just about a month and school districts are getting bombarded with questions and recommendations about how to reopen safely amid the pandemic.

“We’re hearing from a lot of parents on both sides, that they really want their children back in school,” said Jeff Haney, spokesperson for Canyons School District. “And then, of course, we’re hearing from parents who said, ‘You know, I still have some concerns.’”

The Utah State Board of Education requires each of Utah’s 41 school districts to submit a plan by August 1.

With interest so high, many have been releasing draft plans in advance to gather parent feedback.

“We want our parents to know that we’re listening,” said Steven Dunham, spokesperson for the Washington School District.

Plans Across The State

KSL’s COVID-19 Impact Education team reached out to every district in Utah to see how well their plans meet the priorities thousands of parents and teachers outlined in our exclusive poll conducted at the beginning of the summer.

Every district told us they are still finalizing their plan. Some would release only a few details until they make their plans public. Still, several themes emerged.

  • Every district but one plans to reopen for some form of in-person school. Since Salt Lake City remains at orange or moderate risk for COVID-19, instruction for the Salt Lake City District will take place online until the risk level changes.
  • Every district plans to offer parent flexibility, with options for fulltime in-person instruction and learning only from home. Some districts also plan to offer a blended model.
  • Every district will spend millions of dollars on sanitizing and hygiene supplies.
  • No district was planning to require masks for students — until Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a mandate last week. Now they all will, with some flexibility.

“I recognize that for those in kindergarten it may be a bigger challenge to wear a mask,” said Herbert. “Make sure we use common sense application of this mandate.”

PANDEMIC PLANS: See each district’s plan for the fall using the search bar at the end of the article

Those themes emerged because many districts conducted their own parent surveys before developing their plans.

“It drew a significant amount of responses, more than we anticipated,” said Dunham.

Most districts saw strong parental support to return to school.  For example, 67 percent in Provo, 88 percent in Millard, 77 percent in Tooele and 95 percent in Canyons said they wanted their kids back in the classroom.

In Washington County, 46 percent of parents said they’d send kids back “no matter what” with “few reservations.”

Ogden, likewise, found 51 percent of parents would send their kids back regardless.

COVID-19 School Safety Guidelines

Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers For Disease Control suggests when kids do come back, social distancing is “fundamental.”

But the Utah State Board of Education has already acknowledged that the standard six feet of space between desks “is not feasible for most Utah classrooms.”

That left many Utah schools looking at staggered schedules or blended learning options in case they are needed.

“Other ways that we can schedule are still being discussed, but for the most part, we’re focusing on learning in person,” said Haney.

Still, most districts are planning on the bulk of education happening in person and in the classroom.

A preliminary plan for a staggered schedule was tabled by the Uintah School District after resistance from parents.

“If you’re that worried, choose to home school you kids,” testified one parent.

“Let the parents decide because they’re ultimately responsible for these kids,” said another.

For both parents and teachers, keeping the classrooms and hallways free from germs is a priority, and that will happen.

Several districts have dedicated planning and funding to hose efforts.

  • Granite District has spent $1.6 million on hand sanitizer, masks and cleaning equipment.
  • Canyons spent $800,000 on similar equipment.

In addition, parents in Ogden and San Juan County said they wanted daily temperature checks.

Tooele County and Washington County parents prioritized supervised handwashing.

And the Davis School District will spend $350,000 on face masks.

What is missing from these plans?

Teachers have increasingly felt schools are listening to parents, but less to their own health concerns.

“What are they doing to protect teacher health?” asked Danny Drew, a teacher in the Jordan School District. “You give me 35 students in a classroom, I’m going to hide in the back and try to stay away from them and do the best I can with teaching. That’s terrible teaching.”

Drew was relieved when the governor mandated everyone in schools wear masks.

K-12 students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks under an executive order signed by Gov. Herbert.

He and many other teachers now want to see how districts handle requests from high-risk teachers to work from home.

Districts like Jordan and Canyons are working to have high-risk teachers teach online students.

For all the plans and recommendations across our big state, one thing has become clear to district leaders as they finish work on their plans ahead of the state’s August 1 deadline.

“We know not everyone can be happy,” said Bryce Dunford, president of the Jordan District School Board. “So, we’ve tried to find a compromise that is the best for everyone.”

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