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Alpine School District Teachers Rally For Safety Days Before Start Of School Year

LEHI, Utah – A handful of students and teachers rallied for change one week before the Alpine School District is set to kick off the new school year with most students back in the classroom.

“I have never been a week away from school starting without having a clear picture for how my classroom is going to look like or how it’s going to function,” said Becky Jones, a mother and teacher in the Alpine School District.

“I love my students and more than anything,” Jones said. “I want to be able to assure the parents of those precious children that they’re safe at school.”

Jones’ incoming second-grade class has 26 students, 23 of whom will be back in the classroom. The parents of the remaining three chose the online learning option.

Her class reflects the response from parents across the school district — 86% of students chose face-to-face instruction. Far fewer chose online learning, and some were still undecided.

“We’ve had overwhelming feedback from our parents to get kids back to school face to face,” said Kimberly Bird, assistant to the superintendent at Alpine School District. “We’ve chosen to start strong with what our parents are requesting.”

Tuesday’s board of education meeting at Lehi High School featured about a dozen teachers and students with signs asking for more to be done to keep teachers and students safe. Specifically, they were asking for a delay to the start of the school year as other districts have implemented, to give teachers more time to prepare to teach both in the classroom and online.

They also want to see a hybrid option to reduce class sizes and allow for physical distancing and less contact at school.

“If we could reduce that class size, I would feel safer,” Jones said.

Her high school daughter, who also spoke during the board meeting, agreed.

“Students want to be back in school. But it is not safe to have over 2,000 students in a school together,” she said. “From the view of a student, we do not feel heard or that the district is concerned for our safety.”

“To go back to school now knowing that we can lose students is reckless and heartless,” one teacher told the board.

“As a teacher, we don’t want to be part of a grand experiment that we didn’t sign up for,” said Steven Phelps, a parent and former teacher in the district. “We’re asking teachers to do a whole lot more this year with less time to prepare than they’ve ever had before.”

“We cannot maintain a six-foot distance between our desk, and we’ve never said that’s what we’d be able to accomplish,” Bird said, adding that they will be monitoring the COVID-19 situation and “if numbers surprise us and those things occur, we’re ready to scale things back.”

Bird pointed out that in the model for high school students, parents can choose to learn online for some classes and in-person for others, allowing them to create a hybrid schedule for themselves. Bird also said the concerns brought up during Tuesday’s meeting were the minority among parents and teachers. She encouraged teachers who have concerns with the current model to reach out to their principal.

“We may not make broad changes that would reflect that voice. But we are listening,” she said. “We don’t want to lose any of our teachers …We love and care for each and every one of them. But we also understand there’s no perfect model and no perfect option.”

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